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Oct 04, 2018

IR30: ‘We got a lot of questions on what Trump was going to do’

Caroline Fong, head of IR at Manulife US REIT, on Trump, trade wars and owning property in the US while being listed in Singapore

Manulife US REIT has a portfolio that consists of office properties in the US across Los Angeles, Atlanta and Washington, DC, as well as locations like Irvine and New Jersey. IR head Caroline Fong talks to IR Magazine about her career and some of the unique challenges of being listed in Singapore while being invested in the US. 

What are the particularities of doing IR for a real estate investment trust (Reit) with purely US office real estate assets but listed on the Singapore bourse?  

While real estate is a familiar topic for Asian investors, the main challenge for the market is to understand the diversity and intricacies of the US commercial real estate market. Investors tend to be more familiar with gateway cities such as New York, Boston and San Francisco and less with some of the cities we are in, such as Irvine, Atlanta and New Jersey. Our IR efforts go beyond what is mandatory as we are on a mission to share more about the US market and locations of our properties. In order to allow investors to feel closer to our buildings, we have a video for each of them so that investors can ‘walk’ through the building and its amenities. 

Another unique feature of our property tour for analysts, media and investors is presentations and meetings by the local appraisers and leasing agents. These experts on the ground provide insights, their views on the submarkets and their thoughts on past and future performance of the office market. It is all about education and knowledge sharing. 

For this year, we are bringing our global chief economist from the US to meet with the investment community as part of our inaugural Thought Leadership program. She will be sharing her views on the US economy, the Fed’s rate hikes, trade tariffs and trending topics that may be of interest to the market.

What is the most popular question from analysts and investors right now?

In the early part of the year, we were getting a lot of questions on what President Donald Trump was going to do post-election. Now it is more about how many rate hikes we are expecting and the impact of the trade war.

What’s been the biggest challenge of your IR career?

There’s so many! But one of them would be from a company I worked in before Manulife. After a successful listing (at the top pricing), the share price of the stock dived by 50 percent due to the growth rate of China being reduced from a high-single to a mid-single digit. I had so many screaming investors (including internal stakeholders) and even received threatening emails. We were being scolded in every investor meeting due to external market conditions, rather than our own financial performance. I learned to empathize, particularly with retail investors (I was also a shareholder so I really could feel their pain).

How long have you been in IR?

I have more than 13 years of experience in investor relations, capital markets and research. Prior to joining Manulife US REIT, I was in Temasek Holdings, ESR-REIT, CapitaLand Mall Asia and CapitaLand Mall Trust. Early in my career, I was doing credit management at Standard Chartered.

How is your team set up?

I lead the IR team in the planning and execution of the Reit’s IR strategies and engaging the investment community. I am supported by another two IR colleagues – a senior manager and an executive – and their roles are split to focus on investors/analysts and media (marketing and communications), respectively.

Concurrently, as chief sustainability officer, I also work closely with our senior management, representatives from the Reit manager and our property manager in the US to drive the Reit’s sustainability performance.

How many roadshows and investor conferences do you take part in each year?

In the first half of 2018, we met close to 150 fund managers, analysts and media representatives through roadshows, conferences and conference calls. On average, we participate in about six roadshows and five conferences a year.

Do you hold investor days?

Since our IPO in May 2016, we have held two retail investor days to specifically engage this pool of unitholders. We held the investor days in the evening to allow the working crowd to attend the presentations and mingle with our senior management team. Last year, the event was attended by close to 380 investors.

Do you receive support from any external IR firms?

Since our IPO we have been working with a PR firm for our marketing and communications.

What’s your favorite thing about doing investor relations?

Being able to convince an investor or analyst that the stock is worth looking at or buying into.

And your least favorite?

Producing the annual report. And now we also have the sustainability report!

What do you enjoy doing outside of work?

Going to my pilates reformer classes and jogging by the beach. When I miss the smell of freshly baked cakes, I will don my apron and bake. 

If you could pass on one IR lesson, what would it be?

It’s not for the faint-hearted and there’s never a dull moment. I love it!

As IR Magazine builds up to its 30th anniversary issue – the upcoming winter 2018 issue, which will be the 279th edition of the industry’s flagship magazine – we’ll be posting more throwbacks to old covers, revisiting some of the hot topics from the past 30 years of investor relations and hearing from some of the industry titans. 

You can look back over old covers and keep track of all things 30th anniversary at our dedicated hub.