India approved the setting up and listing of real estate investment trusts as the nation seeks to unlock a $20 billion market.

The trusts, or REITs, will have to own assets worth at least 5 billion rupees ($82 million), the Securities and Exchange Board of India said in New Delhi yesterday. Investors must put in a minimum 200,000 rupees. Final notifications would be issued soon to make the new rules for REITs effective in a month or two, Press Trust of India reported, citing U.K. Sinha, chairman of the capital-markets regulator.

The introduction of REITs will provide a new source of funding for cash-strapped developers that are struggling to reduce debt amid one of the highest interest rates in Asia and economic growth near the lowest in a decade. The products will give investors the ability to participate in the country’s property market without investing directly.

“The sector has been in all sorts of trouble primarily due to high leverage for most of the developers,” Pramod Gubbi, director for institutional sales at Ambit Capital Pvt., said in an interview to Bloomberg TV India. “What REIT does is to open up another avenue for funding and this should bring down their cost. More money in the hands of the developers could see more projects taking off.”

DLF Ltd., India’s largest developer by value with about 28 million square feet (2.6 million square meters) of operational rental assets, could be a “big beneficiary,” brokerage Emkay Global Financial Services Ltd. said in an Aug. 1 report.

Combined Debt

Other gainers include Prestige Estates Projects Ltd. (PEPL), a Bengaluru-based developer with 8 million square feet, and Phoenix Mills Ltd. (PHNX), a mall operator that owns 6 million square feet, according to HDFC Securities Ltd.

The S&P BSE India Realty Index rose 2.6 percent as of 9:56 a.m. local time. DLF added as much as 4.2 percent, Prestige 4.5 percent and Phoenix Mills 4.8 percent.

The combined debt of India’s six largest developers climbed to a record 394 billion rupees in the 12 months through March 31, more than double the 158.8 billion rupees in 2007, according to data compiled by broker IIFL Ltd.

REIT-funded assets may reach $20 billion by 2020, according to an estimate by property-broker Cushman & Wakefield, of which as much as $12 billion could be raised in the first three to five years.

Top Markets

“It’ll also provide liquidity to investors as these trusts will be listed and traded on stock exchanges,” Neeraj Bansal, partner and head of the real estate and construction practice at KPMG India, said in an e-mail.

REITs, pioneered in the U.S. in the 1960s, are traded publicly and pool investor money to buy real estate such as shopping malls, office buildings and rental housing. India’s REIT market has the potential to grow to rank among the top five markets in Asia by market capitalization, according to Cushman & Wakefield.

While the market regulator had released the first draft of guidelines for REITs in 2008, they didn’t get final approval because of a lack of clarity on taxes and because the global financial crisis hurt the investment climate, according to a report by Knight Frank LLP in June. The regulator released a new set of guidelines in October, outlining the eligibility criteria for setting up REITs.

(Source: Bloomberg)