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Is the REA Group share price a buy?

Is the REA Group Limited (ASX: REA) share price a buy?

It’s an interesting one. The REA Group share price is still a little below where it was in February 2020. Indeed, since 23 March 2020 the REA Group share price has risen by 67%.

Lower interest rates certainly should increase the valuation of businesses. Australia’s interest rate is now just 0.25%. I think that justifies some of the rise. But COVID-19’s resurgence could knock over some of the recovery in my opinion. 

FY20 third quarter

I think the third quarter update gave us an insight into why a second wave could be so damaging to the property market and REA Group.

In the three months ended 31 March 2020 the property business reported that free cash flow was down 20%.

It was the number of residential listings in April that makes the REA Group share price a hard one to judge. REA Group said that the number of residential listings in April 2020 was down 33%, with Sydney down 18% and Melbourne down 27%. It’s hard to grow earnings with that type of decline. 

REA Group needs a certain amount of volume to maintain, let alone grow, its earnings. REA Group’s stats will probably show that listing numbers rebounded in May and June nationally as COVID-19 was eradicated from states and territories one by one.

The Victorian property market’s size is not enough to knock REA Group’s entire growth off track, but it’s obviously a sizeable part of the overall picture with Melbourne being the second largest city. It could be argued that REA Group is trading too highly with a potential slowdown of listing numbers looking more likely. 

So does this mean that REA Group should be avoided?

Investing is meant to be for the long-term. What happens over the next six months or twelve months shouldn’t necessarily make or break the overall thesis for a business.

I think it’s highly unlikely that COVID-19 will be around forever. The Spanish Flu eventually went away by itself. There are a number of healthcare teams around the world that are trying to find a solution for COVID-19 – either a vaccine or a treatment (hopefully both). The Oxford University vaccine is particularly promising at this stage.  

When you look further into the future, the REA Group share price doesn’t seem to be that bad if it can get back to good growth over the rest of the decade – it’s trading at 35x FY22’s estimated earnings.  

What excites me about the longer-term with REA Group is the international investments in property sites in the US and Asia – two regions with much larger populations and economies than Australia. If you’re quite optimistic about those stakes then perhaps today’s valuation easily be justifiable.

For me, I think REA Group is priced too highly with the potential for damage to property sentiment (and listings) over the next six months. Particularly in Victoria and NSW. However, I think REA Group will easily ride through this difficult period. At 30 April 2020 it had “low debt levels” and a cash balance of $135 million. It also has debt facilities it can tap into.

But I’m still positive about some property ASX shares

I don’t think every property share is too expensive. I’m particularly attracted to Brickworks Limited (ASX: BKW) with its defensive assets of the industrial property trust and the shares of Washington H. Soul Pattinson and Co. Ltd (ASX: SOL). I like Soul Patts as a separate investment as well.

In terms of real estate investment trusts (REITs), I also like the farmland landlords Rural Funds Group (ASX: RFF) and Vitalharvest Freehold Trust (ASX: VTH). They both have distribution yields of more than 5%. They bpth offer defensive rental income which should operate fairly differently from most other REITs and indeed most of the ASX. We all need food, after all.

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Motley Fool contributor Tristan Harrison owns shares of RURALFUNDS STAPLED and Washington H. Soul Pattinson and Company Limited. The Motley Fool Australia owns shares of and has recommended Brickworks, RURALFUNDS STAPLED, and Washington H. Soul Pattinson and Company Limited. The Motley Fool Australia has recommended REA Group Limited. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. This article contains general investment advice only (under AFSL 400691). Authorised by Scott Phillips.

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