REITs have languished in 2023 despite a buoyant equity market due to concerns of cascading defaults in certain segments like commercial real estate (CRE), while high rates continue to pose a significant threat to the group. However, the group is beginning to look attractive from a valuation perspective while offering generous dividend income to holders as well.
From a contrarian perspective, there are some silver linings. For one, yields on long-term Treasuries are hitting levels at which they have found resistance before. The biggest, recent headwinds for REITs has been the increase in long-term rates. If this were to reverse, it would be a major catalyst for the group by lowering their financing costs and making their dividends more attractive.
Additionally despite the challenging operating environment, financials continue to be sound, outside of CRE, and dividends continue to be hiked. According to research, REIT stock prices tend to follow their dividend streams over long periods of time. So far, there is no evidence that dividend payouts will be compromised which increases conviction in buying the dip.
To reduce risk, investors should focus on areas where rents continue to increase such as healthcare and industrials in contrast to areas where rents are slowing or stagnating such as multifamily real estate and office properties.
Finsum: REITs have been one of the worst performers over the last 2 years. Here is a contrarian perspective on why the sector could outperform in 2024.
2023 has seen a modest rebound for REITs despite rates continuing to move higher, no indications of an imminent Fed pivot, and a serious crisis in commercial real estate. One factor is that overall revenues have stabilized and balance sheets remain healthy. Another factor is that healthcare and industrial REITs are seeing revenue growth at a nearly double-digit rate despite the headwind of higher rates.
During Q2 earnings season, funds from operations climbed 4.2% compared to last year’s Q2, totaling $20.6 billion. There is also no compromise in terms of financing with 79% of REITs using unsecured debt with 91% of overall debt locked in at fixed rates, meaning there is less sensitivity to rates.
Another silver lining is that leverage ratios remain below 35% while the average term to maturity is close to seven years. In total for publicly traded REITs, the cost of capital is currently 4%. Given these financials, REITs are also better to take advantage of turmoil in real estate markets as they will be able to access financing at a lower cost of capital than private market operators.
Finsum: Q2 earnings season is over. The much maligned REIT sector continues to see stable revenue growth and healthy financials despite a challenging environment.
Over the last couple of years, REITs have been one one of the weakest parts of the market. REITs own and operate income-producing real estate and are obligated to distribute more than 90% of profits to shareholders.
The biggest headwind has been the relentless rise in rates which makes these stocks’ dividend streams less attractive and ups their financing costs. Higher rates also impact demand for housing by making it less attractive. Finally, there is a crisis in the commercial real estate (CRE) space due to low occupancy rates for offices given the increase in remote work.
While there have been an array of macro and cyclical factors negatively affecting REITs, there are some reasons for optimism that the worst may be over. For one, the odds of a soft landing continue to rise. This is due to recent economic and labor market data which clearly show that the job market is cooling, and wage growth is falling. However, job losses have not been materially rising, indicating a period of slower growth rather than a recession.
This should lead longer-term rates to drift lower which would be a catalyst for REIT stocks to start moving higher. Lower rates should help housing demand. Additionally, a weaker job market could also give employers more leverage to force workers to return to the office.
Overall, many of the negative trends which were impacting REITs are now reversing.
Finsum: Recent economic data is strengthening the odds of a soft landing. Here are why REITs would be a big winner in this scenario.
In recent weeks, REITs like other rate-sensitive sectors have been pummeled as long-term yields have surged higher due to the resilience of inflation, a hawkish Fed, and expectations of substantial Treasury supply hitting the market later this year.
But some contrarians are pointing out that there have been some positive developments for the sector on a long-term basis. First, most of the damage for the sector has come from high rates as earnings have continued to hold steady. This has led to valuations becoming quite attractive.
Additionally while the timing of the Fed’s pivot is unknown, it’s certainly close to the end of its hiking cycle. And just as the start of the hiking cycle led to steep losses for REITs, it’s likely that the start of rate cuts will send shares soaring higher.
Finally, it’s also interesting to note that at the start of the rate hike cycle, the sector was extremely correlated to Treasuries. But this relationship has considerably loosened and has led to a bullish divergence.
Remarkably, the broad-based Schwab US REIT ETF has been making higher lows, while Treasury yields have been making higher highs. This is an indication of demand and that institutions are using the weakness to accumulate shares.
Finsum: REITs are not making lower lows despite the breakout in Treasury yields. Some contrarians see this as a bullish signal from the market.
REIT stocks are slightly down YTD. On the bright side, yields are at their highest level in decades, defaults have not materially risen and occupancy rates have been stable. However, this has not been substantial enough to offset the headwind from rising rates.
This headwind is only getting more potent with yields on longer-term Treasuries breaking out to new highs which is bearish for the asset class given its embedded leverage and exposure to rates. Higher rates also are impacting demand and leading to lower affordability.
The most damage is evident in commercial real estate, where REITs are trading close to their lows while REITs with exposure to healthcare, industrial, or residential sectors are performing much better. This is mostly a reflection of a structural change following the pandemic as companies cut back on office space.
In the event that rates remain at these lofty levels, REIT stocks are likely to underperform. However, the current weakness in the sector could present a long-term opportunity to accumulate REITs that continue to grow their earnings and use the weakness in the sector to add high-quality holdings at attractive prices.
Finsum: REITs are moving lower as Treasury yields break out to new highs. While higher yields are a major headwind, the current selloff is likely to create some attractive opportunities.
This market cycle has been unique for a variety of reasons and constantly caught investors on the wrong-footed. Another unique aspect of the current market is the strong performance of private real estate while public real estate has languished.
For Advisor Perspectives, Carlin Calcaterra and Brendan McCurdy of Ares Wealth Management Solutions investigate whether this is presenting an opportunity to buy the dip in public real estate or if this is a harbinger of weakness for private real estate.
They use historical data as a guide and acknowledge that public real estate has delivered higher returns over the long-term. But, this is primarily due to higher amounts of leverage with public real estate. Adjusting for this factor, they believe that private real estate is the better investment from a risk/reward perspective.
They also believe that the data indicates low levels of correlation between public and private real estate. Therefore, these instances of divergence are not unusual and not necessarily predictive.
In fact, 2 ⁄ 3 of the time that public real estate had more than a double-digit drawdown, there was no subsequent drawdown in private real estate. When there was a drawdown in private real estate, it often came at a nine to twelve month lag. This is notable given that the drawdown in public real estate began more than 18 months ago, and the asset class has been recovering in recent months.
Finsum: A major market mystery is the significant weakness in public real estate while private real estate has continued to generate positive returns. Will this outperformance continue or is public real estate a leading indicator for private real estate?