After a few years of reduced focus on retail real estate largely due to the limited supply across India, private equity (PE) players are again focusing on these assets with over USD 724 mn invested in 2017 (through September) alone. Compared to the total investment of USD 1.57 bn witnessed between 2015 and September 2017, this chunk shows how the PE focus is changing as they aim to diversify their portfolios.
With an aim to create a portfolio of assets as the Indian market expands, some of the leading global PE funds have started investing in retail sector in order to diversify their investment portfolios in the country. This includes all types of investment such as platform and entity-level deals as also acquiring stakes in leading malls across cities.
The most recent example is of Blackstone forming an India subsidiary named Nexus Malls, which includes a retail portfolio as well as stakes in successful malls like Seawoods Grand Central, Ahmedabad One, Mall of Amritsar, Elante Mall, Treasure Island Next, Treasure Island Indore and Westend.
Joint venture (JV) partnerships and strategic investment platforms have also come under focus during the last 15 months. For instance, Xander group’s Virtuous Retail (VR) and APG Asset Management have formed a JV called Virtuous Retail South Asia (VRSA). The latter recently acquired North Country Mall in Mohali. With this acquisition, VRSA expanded its portfolio that now includes VR Bangalore, VR Surat, North Country Mall and an upcoming mall in Chennai.
Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB) and The Phoenix Mills Limited also joined hands to form a strategic investment platform for development of greenfield and brownfield retail-led assets in India. Island Star Mall Developers, a Phoenix Mills subsidiary that owns Phoenix Market City Bangalore, will serve as the platform for this alliance.
Platform deals to form strategic retail partnerships are expected to see more traction in the coming quarters. In these deals, the track record of a developer and their operational processes, is the key selection criteria of investors. The global investing partner brings expertise in managing international retail assets and thereby, international best practices. The local partner or the mall developer contributes in terms of local market understanding and leverages existing, strong on-ground teams.
The developer partner gains as this funding is used to optimize assets and upgrade all functions of the malls’ operations. In certain cases, the developer can also monetize their non-core assets, thus generating cash flows for future developments. These funds can be utilized for acquiring other assets in order to expand the portfolio. With the help of an experienced international investor partner, the developers also have the advantage in terms of securing favourable lease terms and achievement of cost savings through optimizing operational efficiency.
Another positive fallout is that this would bring in more transparency as well as improvement in operating environment of shopping malls in terms of financials and regular churn of the tenant mix. Institutional investors have medium to long term perspective and therefore would evaluate the brands from that viewpoint.
The author is Ramesh Nair, CEO & Country Head, JLL India