Cap-rate knowledge a property investing must

cap rates property

Capitalisation rates can offer property investors an overview of expected returns but should not be used as the only form of analysis.

While considering commercial property investment, SMSF trustees will consistently hear about capitalisation rates, also known as cap rates.

Yield is the industry’s term for the net rental return on a property. Yield, when applied to the rental to determine a market value, is then known as the cap rate.

What is the cap rate and how important is it when valuing commercial property? The answer is very important. But cap rate a commonly misunderstood term.

Put simply, the cap rate is the ratio of net operating income (NOI) to a property’s value. NOI is revenue minus operating expenses. It excludes principal and interest payments, capital spending, depreciation and amortisation.

Here’s an example: a small commercial office that had a NOI of $50,000 and had a current market value of $750,000. It would have a cap rate of 6.6 per cent.

But what does this 6.6 per cent mean?

First, it allows investors to assess different investment opportunities and the relative expected contributions to overall return from NOI and capital appreciation.

Let’s compare a property with a 6.6 per cent cap rate to a property with a 10 per cent cap rate. The market expects the 6.6 per cent cap-rate property to have higher future appreciation. This is to offset the lower NOI compared with the 10 per cent cap-rate property. The NOI for the 10 per cent cap-rate property also may be more uncertain. The extra NOI is required to offset this risk compared with the 6.6 per cent cap-rate property.

Expectations vs Outcomes

However, expectations regarding the future aren’t the same as realised outcomes. Only time will tell whether the property value performance and realised NOI are sufficient to offset the difference between cap rates.

Take a fully tenanted, small office block in a sought-after suburb. Compare this with a similar-sized property in a less prominent part of the city. The former will have a lower cap rate because its value will be higher due to its location. The latter will have a higher cap rate, thus reflecting a lower market value and greater risk associated with property income.

An investor prepared to take more risk might acquire the property in the second suburb. The conservative investor will be inclined to pay a premium for a fully or easily tenanted office in a better location. This means there is no ideal cap rate – it all comes down to the market and an investor’s appetite for risk.

Second, by assessing the cap rates of comparable commercial property sales in the same location, investors have a common guide on relative value as to the value of the property they want to acquire.

If investors are selling similar properties close by, the cap rate of these properties applied to the NOI of the property under consideration will give an approximate guide to what the market assesses the value to be. However, property, tenant or lease-specific factors can override this rule of thumb. Care must be taken in drawing general conclusions.

It is important to remember cap rates, like any investment ratio, have their limitations. For example, consider NOI. When it is stable, the cap rate will be invaluable in making an investment decision. If the NOI is complex and irregular, it is a different ball game.

Certainly, any investment should consider the myriad factors that can influence NOI, such as building quality, location, tenant diversity and creditworthiness, length of leases and the broader economic outlook.

Currently, in the Australian market, rising interest rates have reignited the debate about how much impact this will have on cap rates for commercial property. The economic logic says the higher the cost of borrowing, the less debt a property can support with its NOI. This causes fall in property prices to fall which, in turn, increases cap rates.

NOI Not Always Steady

But that assumes steady NOI. And not all is necessarily as it seems for two reasons.

Rentals for many commercial properties are increasing. This is due to continued strong demand in the economy (the unemployment rate fell 3.4 per cent in July, the lowest rate in nearly half a century). This is also higher inflation if the lease has inflation-linked rentals.

Rent increases translate into a higher NOI and downward pressure on the cap rate. Consequently, softening cap rates due to rising borrowing costs may be partly compensated by rising rental income. Income, not property values, slow cap-rate increases.

This trend for commercial property is likely to be even more evident for industrial property. Recently released figures from global commercial real estate services company JLL show prime industrial rents rose 6.22 per cent between April and June to be up 14.9 per cent annually.

As long-term bond rates rise, so does cap rates. But they do not rise at the same pace and often not to the same degree. It depends upon the commercial property itself and the sector. This is happening in our markets with the change in cap rates for retail, office, and industrial being quite different.

Cap Rate and Long-term Interest Rate

The cap rate’s relationship with long-term interest rates is another complication. This was reflected by the 10-year Australian government bond. The 10-year bond rate is a proxy for the risk-free rate of return for long-term assets.

Commercial property has additional risks compared with government bonds. If the 10-year bond rate increases, the cap rate would be expected to rise as well to maintain the risk premium.

Again, the increase in cap rates is often not at the same pace and very often not to the same degree. It depends upon the commercial property sector and how the market assesses the risk premium.

The cap rate is a useful guide to commercial property valuation. But it is not infallible. When making a commercial property acquisition, investors should use it in conjunction with other investment metrics and analysis. Professional advice, especially for first-time buyers, is also a smart option.

Per Amundsen is head of research and Cullen Hughes is chief financial officer at Thinktank.

Copyright © SMS Magazine 2024

ABN 43 564 725 109

Benchmark Media

Site design Red Cloud Digital