The United States still the most REITs in the world, as well as the biggest market capitalization in the sector, but the rest of the world is increasingly drawing more interest from investors.

According to a recent report from Deloitte, the U.S. has 173 REITs, followed by Australia with 60. And when it comes to market cap, again the U.S. leads the way with 39.5% of the global market. Hong Kong comes in second with 15.9%.

And while the developed markets have distinct advantages in this asset class—well established tax regulations, a good deal of transparency, and new amendments to increase liquidity, according to Deloitte—it is the emerging markets that are drawing increased interest.

Why? The economic prospects of those countries, of course. The average annual GDP growth for the next three years for India and China is 8.7% and 8.6%, respectively, far outpacing the likes of the U.S. (1.9%), Canada (2.3%) or the UK (1.6%).

To be sure, this goes hand-in-hand with comments that other sources have recently told On Wall Street. In a nutshell, they said that investors should maintain a global mindset when considering REITs, and macro economic variables are crucial to the equation. Job creation, which affects the prospects of shopping malls and office buildings, is just one point to consider when looking at REITs.

They also noted that many emerging countries, in addition to enjoying strong GDP growth, have a limited supply of real estate, and therefore REITs wield more pricing power.

The general consensus of the pros who spoke to On Wall Street for a feature story in the current issue was that 2011 should be pretty good for REITS. Not as good as 2010, which was a major comeback year after a poor 2008 and 2009; but still, a pretty strong year, particularly when they are compared to other cash-generating investments such as dividend-paying stocks or fixed-income.

Many of the emerging markets with this high potential, however, have been slower to allow REITS. In fact, some are still in the process, according to Deloitte.

Thailand, for example, issued draft regulations just last year and is close to approving a regulatory framework for REITS, Deloitte says. China formally supported the launch of Chinese REITs in 2008 with pilot programs expected this year. But only domestic investors will likely be allowed to participate, Deloitte says. And India introduced draft regulations in 2007, but no consensus has been reached yet.

To be sure, not everyone is on the bandwagon. Some sources note that cash flows from REITS, while improved, are not yet back to pre-recession levels, although their prices are. In other words, the price is too high for the value you’ll get.

But for those who are so inclined, Deloitte lays out specific step for expanding globally with REITs, including: determine a strategy for expansion, whether it’s local JV partners, acquisition of existing companies or a new development; understand the types of entities available, including tax treatment and general tax rates; plan for operating constraints from local country requirements; and consider exit strategies and related tax implications.


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