Is the Singapore REIT rally on its last legs?

Leslie Shaffer | Writer for
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Singapore's listed real-estate trusts have recovered to around their highest levels since the market's "taper tantrum" began last year, but Nomura thinks the rally may be on its last legs.

"Market sentiment towards the sector has swung from caution at the start of the year to complacency," Min Chow Sai, a Singapore property analyst at Nomura, said in a note dated Wednesday. "The tide could start to turn for these names as we enter 2015."

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Singapore's real-estate investment trusts, dubbed S-REITs, sold off from around May of last year during the "taper tantrum" after the U.S. Federal Reserve first broached its plan to taper its asset purchases, spurring outflows amid concerns interest rates would rise, which would make the trusts' yields less attractive.

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So far, expectations of rising rates have largely been frustrated. The 10-year U.S. Treasury yield rose from 1.60 percent in mid-May of 2013 to around 3.0 percent at the start of 2014, but it then retraced to around 2.56 percent. That's helped to support yield-chasing across various asset classes, likely including S-REITs.

The average yield spread between S-REITs under Nomura's coverage and Singapore government bonds has fallen below its levels before the taper tantrum began last year, Min Chow said.

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But he expects Singapore's risk-free rate, or the yield on the city-state's 10-year bond, could rise faster than in the U.S. in 2015, possibly to as much as 4.05 percent by the end of next year.

"Concerns over a potential spike at the long end of the yield curve in 2015 could return to weigh on the REITs," Min Chow said. "If REITs' yield spreads were to mean-revert as well, our estimates suggest potential downside risk of an average 15.8 percent to current share prices amongst the REITs we cover."

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After the FTSE ST Real Estate Investment Trust index's near 7 percent rally so far this year, "the S-REITs market could be entering the final lap of its bullish run this year," he said.

Others also think it's too late to get into the S-REIT trade.

Macquarie believes the returns are now less attractive after the sector's outperformance so far this year, expecting only an around 3-4 percent total return, if the Singapore dollar continues to trade around current levels against the U.S. dollar.

"[The] REIT trade looks tired," Macquarie said in a note last week. "The bond yield is not rising as fast as we expected at the start of the year, but we think it is bottoming," it said. "We are not keen on the yield sectors."

The sector has been a top performer so far this year as the market baked in lower-than-expected bond yields, it noted, but added, "We feel we have missed the trade but would not chase."

To be sure, some believe the sector can continue to perform.

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"S-REITs continue to benefit from their past investments and higher secured rentals within their existing portfolios," OCBC said in a note last week. It noted that sector players have stepped up their efforts to repay and refinance their borrowings, as well as hedging interest rate exposure.

It estimates that a one percentage point increase in interest rates would result in at most a 10 percent decline in dividends per unit for some S-REITs, while some, such as Starhill Global REIT, will likely remain unscathed due to its hedges.

—By CNBC.Com's Leslie Shaffer; Follow her on Twitter @LeslieShaffer1