March 22, 2016 / 6:20 AM / in 3 years

Japan's first solar trusts set to list on new infrastructure market

TOKYO (Reuters) - Four solar power plant operators are poised to sell the first shares on the Tokyo Stock Exchange’s nascent infrastructure market, opening an avenue of funding for the renewable energy industry and bringing green assets to individual investors.

Solar panels are seen at a solar power facility as snow covered Mount Fuji is background in Nakai town, Kanagawa prefecture, Japan, March 1, 2016. REUTERS/Issei Kato

Asset managers Sparx Group Co Ltd (8739.T) and Ichigo Inc (2337.T), condominium developer Takara Leben Co Ltd (8897.T) and Renewable Japan Co said they aim to list their plants as investment trusts, paying dividends from electricity sales.

Shares in the trusts will be sold on a market that will turn a year old in April, when a tax perk that attracted the first listings takes effect. The trusts are therefore widely seen as test cases for a market the exchange created to capitalize on the eventual privatization of swathes of public infrastructure.

The exchange aims to replicate the success of its market for real estate investment trusts (REITs) which opened in 2001 with two office space trusts. It now has 54 REITs involving various property, such as hotels and hospitals, worth 11.6 trillion yen ($96.78 billion) and paying an average yield of over 3 percent.

“Unlike real estate, cash flows from solar power plants are stable over the long term and that will meet investor demand for balance in their portfolio,” said Hidehiro Ishii, head of rules planning at the exchange’s new listings department.

Observers say the listings could each raise up to 10 billion yen, and are likely to come some time this year after April when renewable energy trusts become exempt from corporation tax for 20 years, provided they have operational plants by March 2017.

However, the market for such trusts needs further support if it is to grow, said a lawyer involved in planning renewable subsidies. Already, the government is lowering the subsidy for solar which has attracted about $270 billion in investment.

“The debut of renewable-energy funds on the public market is potentially a game-changing event in the sense that it offers retail investors the opportunity to directly invest in renewables for the first time,” said Yoichi Katayama, Tokyo-based partner at law firm Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe.

“But unless we see more deregulation or incentives, there are questions over whether such funds will become sought after by investors.”

Lowering the subsidy is likely to squeeze profitability at plants which could deter investment and limit the number of listed trusts, observers said. The government said reductions were in line with a decline in start-up costs.

Sparx owns 18 solar plants but the subsidy is now so low - having almost halved since introduced in 2012 - that the firm is shifting focus to wind and biomass, said Hayato Shimura, head of business development at Sparx Green Energy & Technology Co Ltd.

($1 = 113.6600 yen)

Reporting by Junko Fujita; Editing by Aaron Sheldrick and Christopher Cushing

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