Entering the year, there was optimism around real estate stocks given consensus expectations of rate cuts due to inflation falling to the Fed’s desired level and a weakening economy. However, the economy has defied skeptics and remains resilient, while inflation is plateauing at higher levels. As a result, the Fed will be less dovish than expected, and the market has tapered back expectations for rate cuts to between 1 and 2 by year-end. 

Another consequence of the data is that mortgage rates are trending back to last year’s highs, with the 30Y at 6.9%. The real estate sector sank lower following last week’s inflation report, led by self-storage companies, office REITs, and homebuilders on the downside. 

Over the past month and YTD, the Real Estate Select SPDR Fund (XLRE) is down 4.6% and 7.8%, respectively. The current environment of rates at a 23-year high is clearly a major headwind. And there are no indications that the status quo will meaningfully change until there is improvement in terms of inflation or more damage to the economy. The impact is evident in terms of Fed futures. At the start of March, odds indicated more than a 50% chance that there would be four or more rate cuts by the end of the year. Now, these odds have plummeted to 5%. 

Finsum: Real estate stocks have sunk lower in the last month, along with the odds of aggressive rate cuts by the Fed. As long as ‘higher for longer’ persists, there will be considerable stress for the weakest segments of the real estate market.

Meredith Whitney, who previously forecasted the financial crisis in the mid-2000s, sees downside for the housing market, driven by changes in behavior among younger men. She sees the beginning of a multiyear decline in housing prices as the lower levels of household formation among men negatively impact demand. 

On the supply side, she sees more homes for sale due to the aging demographics of homeowners. Whitney’s perspective deviates from the consensus, which sees home prices as remaining elevated due to a lack of supply, coupled with a bulge in demand as Millennials enter their peak consumption years over the next decade. This year, most Wall Street banks are forecasting a mid-single digits increase in home prices. 

Another factor impacting housing supply is that the vast majority of mortgages were made at much lower rates. While many asset prices have declined due to the impact of high rates, home prices are an exception. Whitney contends that “normally you would think as rates go up, home prices would go down, and that hasn’t happened over the last two years. I think home prices will normalize because as more inventory and supply come on the market, you’ll see a true clearing price that is lower than it is today. So, I would say 20% lower than it is today.” 

Finsum: The consensus view is that home prices will continue rising due to low supply and demographic-driven demand. Meredith Whitney, well-regarded for predicting the financial crisis, is bearish on the asset class.

REITs have had an uneven start to the year due to the outlook for monetary policy becoming less dovish. Many investors are interested in taking advantage of this weakness, given the sector’s solid fundamentals and attractive yields. Yet, they may want to minimize exposure to volatility, which is likely to persist given an uncertain outlook for monetary policy. So, here are two lower volatility REITs for more conservative investors.

W.P. Carey (WPC) owns commercial and industrial properties across North America and has a 6.2% dividend yield. WPC is extremely diversified, as no single industry accounts for more than 10% of its tenants, and its biggest single tenant accounts for less than 3% of total revenue. 

In addition to its diversification, WPC also has less risk than competitors due to being a net-lease REIT. This means tenants cover taxes, insurance, and maintenance. The company also negotiates rental rate increases that are built into contracts, providing another layer of security.  

Digital Realty Trust (DLR) provides exposure to data centers, pays a 3.4% yield, and has hiked its dividend every year since 2005. This segment saw massive growth over the last decade due to the rise of cloud computing and should enjoy another healthy tailwind over the next decade due to artificial intelligence. 

DLR’s data centers enable the distribution of technology to users for consumer and commercial applications. The company has more than 300 data centers in over 25 countries and counts companies like Meta, JPMorgan Chase, and Verizon among its customers.   

Finsum: REITs have underperformed to start the year. Yet, the sector still holds appeal due to attractive yields and solid fundamentals. DLR and WPC are two REITs with lower volatility that may appeal to more conservative REIT investors. 

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