Turkey’s Is REIT looking further east from Istanbul

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey’s leading listed real estate trust Is REIT reckons Istanbul will soon have all the shopping centers it needs and is turning to other cities in Anatolia, General Manager Turgay Tanes said in an interview. Shopping centers – some of them huge with luxury brands – have mushroomed in Istanbul in recent years, making for a total of more than 120. A 50 percent stake in one center was sold to a foreign firm last year for $422 million. «A hundred shopping centers are under construction or preparation in Istanbul, and that is enough,» Tanes told Reuters last week, adding that about 10 to 15 percent of those were huge complexes. «In Istanbul, investors must be conservative for now,» he said. Is REIT, whose shares have slightly underperformed the market with a 7 percent rise this year, plans to focus now on residential property on the less-developed Asian side of Istanbul and retail and residential projects in Anatolian cities. «We will focus on mixed projects in Anatolia, in industrialized cities,» he said. The company, the largest of Turkey’s listed real estate trusts (REITs) and the fastest-growing last year, is waiting for permission to build a high-income 200-300-unit residential development on Istanbul’s Asian side, worth some $100 million. It also plans a residential and shopping center development in an Anatolian seaside city, if it gets permission. But Tanes is cautious about the impact on the real estate market of a new law allowing mortgages in Turkey – passed last week – because of prohibitively high interest rates. This time last year monthly rates for housing loans were around 1 percent, but since a sharp rise in rates after an inflation shock last year, they now stand at around 1.8 percent. Is REIT, owned by Turkey’s largest bank Is Bank and with a net asset value of $750 million, is in negotiations to sell its 50 percent stake in Kanyon, a huge high-profile new shopping, office and residential center in the main business district of Istanbul. But Tanes said the firm would not necessarily sell its stake in the center, which houses foreign and local luxury brands, including Harvey Nichols, and works at a yield of 15 percent. A 50 percent stake in rival shopping center Cevahir went for $422 million late last year to Britain’s St Martin’s Property Group and a similar deal would be welcome foreign investment in Turkey in a year when privatizations have been postponed. «We may not sell… It’s 50-50,» he said, adding European firms were interested and a decision could be announced at the end of April.