Unwanted: Manila moguls
EYES WIDE OPEN - Iris Gonzales (The Philippine Star) - January 23, 2020 - 12:00am

The times they really are a-changin as Bob Dylan’s iconic anthem of change goes.

Manila’s tycoons must be feeling these words right in the gut nowadays. Dylan’s gentle yet highly expressive croon must be ringing loud in their ears – over and over – like neanderthals banging in their heads.

Unfortunately for these billionaires, things won’t be getting back to normal anytime soon.

This is one of the key takeaways I got from the big launch of the amended implementing rules and regulations of the Real Estate Investment Trust or REIT Act of 2009 last Monday.

REIT for all

Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez said the new rules are meant to be for everyone including small provincial apartment developers. In Davao, he said, there are many well known yet small property companies.

“This is meant to be inclusive and make sure the entire country can participate rather than just Manila moguls,” Sec. Dominguez said.

The good secretary was referring to the easy minimum paid in capital requirement of just P300 million.

It’s clear that the administration is serious in its goal of spreading wealth to the provinces and away from imperial Manila.

Sec. Dominguez is right in saying that growth should be inclusive. I really couldn’t agree more. In fact, I’ve been consistently advocating for that.

Indeed, I hope many players will list their REITs in the stock market. I believe in the potential of this financial concept.

With REITs, Filipinos can participate in the ownership of real estate companies and grow their money.

But I hope the small property developers would not be intimidated by additional costs they will incur with the need to have third-party REIT fund managers.

What are REITs?

Companies that own and operate income-generating real estate assets are considered REITs. These companies include offices, apartment buildings, hotels, warehouses and shopping centers.

It’s been 11 years since Republic Act 9856 or the REIT Act was signed into law, but the implementation has been stalled because of problematic provisions in the implementing rules.

Manila’s property giants snubbed the law back then and called for friendlier rules.

Well, the good news is that the new rules are indeed what many of them asked for.

The bad news is that the Duterte administration isn’t exactly excited about Manila moguls these days.

We’ll have to wait and see then which property giant would be the first to list. I heard that Manila’s tycoons are all staying below the radar these days so as not to draw the ire of the president.

Ayala Land REIT

Last year, the country’s oldest conglomerate Ayala Corp. through its property giant Ayala Land Inc. said it was aiming to be the first Philippine REIT to be listed in the market.

It already set up Ayala Land REIT Inc. But share prices of Ayala Corp. and Ayala Land have been on a tailspin lately with all the negative news. Will they still be eager to be the first to list? We’ll have to wait and see.

Salient provisions of the REIT rules

In any case, in a roundtable discussion on the REIT led by Sec. Dominguez, I learned more about the new rules.

I am hopeful that the REIT landscape in the country would indeed take off.

Congratulations to Sec. Dominguez, SEC chairman Emilio Aquino and PSE president Ramon Monzon and their respective teams for successfully issuing the new rules.

The revised rules lowered the minimum public ownership – a contentious issue in the original rules – from 40 percent in the first year of listing to at least one third or 33 percent of the outstanding capital stock.

Meanwhile, the Bureau of Internal Revenue amended its revenue regulations to exempt from the 12 percent value added tax the transfer of property to a REIT in exchange for its shares “provided the exchange should result in an acquisition by the transferor of at least 51 percent of the outstanding voting capital stocks of the transferee.”

Keeping the funds in the country

One provision I particularly like is the need to reinvest the large funds raised from REIT in the country’s real estate and infrastructure sector.

It’s a provision that Sec. Dominguez made sure would be part of the new rules.

“...rather than the benefits being squirreled to other markets,” he said.

I think it’s brilliant. I hope corporate regulators and the PSE will be able to strictly monitor the use of funds.

(Politicians pocketing taxpayers’ money should actually do the same. They should invest their stolen funds back into the domestic economy rather than stash them away in secret accounts in the Cayman Islands or wherever. But that’s another story).

Going back to the REITs, I hope this would be the catalyst the local stock market needs nowadays.

But there’s the rub. Investors are getting wary of all these anti-oligarch attacks which is why many have been dumping Philippine stocks.

So for now, it remains to be seen if anyone would have the courage to list now that many businesses are afraid to be in the limelight.

Sec. Dominguez said they really have nothing to fear, but he quickly adds with a wide grin, “unless they have onerous contracts.”

Iris Gonzales’ email address is eyesgonzales@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter @eyesgonzales. Column archives at eyesgonzales.com


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