Afine Investments Limited (“Afine”) will be listing as a real estate investment trust (“REIT”) on the JSE Limited on 9 December 2021. Afine holds a portfolio of income generating immovable properties focused on the petroleum sector, strategically located in four of South Africa’s nine provinces.
Afine was founded by Peter Todd, with strategic input from Mike Watters, both of whom are notable investors and operators in the REIT space, with the purpose of creating a holding company for a REIT focussing on the petroleum sector in South Africa. Mike Watters will act as the Chairman of the board of Afine.
Afine operates as a specialist REIT in the petrol service station fraternity in South Africa. Afine was created as a team effort with the key management of Petroland Group (Pty) Limited (“Petroland”).
Petroland was established in 1993 by Anton Loubser. Since its establishment, Petroland developed more than 60 new petrol service stations in the majority of all metropolitan areas in SA, as well as in rural areas such as Phuthaditjhaba, Kanyamazane, Lebowakgomo, etc. Anton Loubser has been appointed as the Chief Executive Officer of Afine and brings a wealth of experience to the Board.
In South Africa, petrol service station properties are controlled by the oil companies and a small group of petrol service station property owners. High property prices, complex legal structures, environmental legislation, licencing requirements, etc. create high entry barriers for the ordinary man in the street to participate in a petrol service station property as an investment opportunity.
Afine was created with the prime objective to afford ordinary property investors the opportunity to participate in the ownership of petrol service station properties. Although this type of REIT is already in operation on other stock exchanges all over the world, this will be the first of its kind in SA and an excellent opportunity for all petrol service station property owners/ investors to participate in this new venture.
The investment case for REITs
Watters believes that the fundamental reason for the existence of REITs – to produce income – is there and will be there forever. “People need income and that is why REITs are so highly rated. If you have an investment that gives you solid, stable and growing income, that will be what people want to invest in. REITs, I believe, will just get stronger, no matter all these fundamental issues around the world. There is a convergence of REITs around the world coming to resemble each other to meet the boxes that need to be ticked for global investors. You need scale, liquidity, good corporate governance and the right debt levels. If you meet those requirements, people will invest in you.”
Watters explains further – “The recent trend in REIT investment demand from investors has been for specialised REITs over generalised portfolios. This has gathered momentum with specialisations in logistics (Equities Property Fund Limited), self-storage (Stor-Age Property REIT Limited), and multi-let industrials (Stenprop Limited, Sirius Real Estate Limited). Until recently, ownership of petrol service stations in South Africa was not concentrated. Afine’s objective is to consolidate ownership through a REIT structure, with an acquisition strategy to grow the business substantially over the next five to ten years.”
The international case for specialised REITs
Llewelyn Gerber is a Corporate Finance Principal at Bravura, an independent investment bank that acted as Corporate Adviser on the listing of Afine on the JSE. He comments that the trend for specialised REITs is not unique to South Africa. Indeed, the trend is well known in the Australian and international listed markets. “Specialised investments in the property sector, including investments in petrol service stations, are tapping into the interest from both investors and lenders. This is not surprising considering the returns offered by this specialised sub-sector of property investment. Even in the lockdown petrol service stations offered solid opportunity – in the right locations of course.”
Gerber’s comments are confirmed by the results from professional services firm BDO Australia in the 26th Annual Survey of Australian REITs. Two REITs with mainly petrol service station assets are included in the 2020 top 10 Australian REITs. Waypoint REIT (formerly Viva Energy REIT Ltd) is Australia’s largest REIT with a market cap of $2 billion. It owns a portfolio of petrol service stations around Australia, with more than 400 Shell-branded service station properties. APN Convenience Retail REIT which owns a portfolio of 80 petrol service station and convenience retail assets located across Australia is valued at $455 million.
Gerber comments that this trend is evident in the United States as well. For example, Getty Realty is a USA listed REIT that owns convenience stores and petrol service stations. The company owns or leases 947 properties across 35 states. Its stations are leased to nationally known fuel brands including BP, Shell, Mobil and more.
Gerber comments – “In the United States, there is a world of difference between the investment returns from the best REITs and the worst ones, and this is mainly based on the type of property. Many retail-focused REITs lost more than 50% of their value as consumers minimised shopping trips during the Covid-19 pandemic. Office REITs also struggled as large-scale work-from-home strategies have investors rethinking the future of office space. REITs with petrol service station assets are riding out the pandemic shutdowns relatively unscathed – and some are even benefiting from the changes in the business environment.”
Gerber is excited about this new investment opportunity. “This listing of a specialised REIT with exposure to petrol station assets is a very interesting first for South Africa. Given the resilience of returns from petrol service stations, especially in a post lockdown economy, we believe it will achieve more interest and better valuations as a specialised asset class that investors have been looking to invest in.
Afine is listing as the first specialised REIT with petrol service station assets in South Africa.
Michelle Krastanov from AcaciaCap acted as the Designated Advisor on the listing. She explains that Afine has secured long term leases with oil majors, which provides reliable and sustainable revenue and has also entered into an agreement with Petroland, one of South Africa’s major petrol station developers, in terms of which Petroland will provide strategic management services. Afine has furthermore negotiated a right of first refusal on all new Petroland development projects. Petroland has a significant client base in the commercial property industry from which a large number of new petrol service station opportunities are generated. This includes the Engen Platinum One Stop, one of the most successful petrol service stations in Southern Africa, which was completed in 2012/13.
Mike Watters is the Chairman of the board of Afine Investments Limited, now listed on the JSE. Watters headed up dual listed RDI REIT PLC (formerly Redefine International) from 2006 to 2020 and grew the company from start-up capital of £5m to a UK REIT with a market cap of around £700m (about R11bn) and a £1.53bn (about R24.5bn) property portfolio. He is the former CEO of the Corovest Property Group and was a corporate finance executive at Standard Corporate and Merchant Bank before that.
Michelle Krastanov is one of the Approved Executives at AcaciaCap Advisors, which team provides sponsor and designated advisor services to listed entities.