Economy

REITs are in the midst of another leg lower and have effectively wiped out their gains from May and July with a 9% decline over the past six weeks. Year to date, the sector is down by 7% while it was up as much as 9% at its highest point in the year as measured by the Vanguard Real Estate ETF. This follows even steeper, double-digit losses in 2022.

In recent months, the weakness of the long-end of the Treasury curve has hit all types of yield-generating assets like REITs and dividend-paying stocks. Fed fund futures markets are downgrading the chances of rate cuts in 2024 while extending the duration that rates will remain at these levels. There is even increased chatter about how the Fed’s terminal rate must even go higher in order to truly stamp out inflation.

It’s a double-edged sword for REITs as the bulk of the sector continues to deliver impressive financial results with defaults remaining low especially in areas with strong fundamentals like healthcare and industrials. Yet, the stocks are unlikely to rally as long as rates remain elevated at these levels even despite attractive yields.


Finsum: REITs are in the midst of another leg lower and falling to new annual lows due to an uptick in inflationary pressures and the Fed coming out more hawkish than expected.

 

One of the consequences of tighter monetary policy is to curtail housing demand by squeezing affordability. As a result, all sorts of housing activity has cooled such as mortgage applications, new home construction, renovations, and house flipping. While there are all sorts of losers, it’s presenting an opportunity for many private real estate funds who are finding a buyer’s market.

 These funds raise money with multi year holding periods so are less affected by the change in the funding environment at least in the short and intermediate-term. Another factor in the real estate market is that many regional banks are pulling back from extending credit given their balance sheet concerns. Overall, it’s a risk for the broader economic outlook but a unique opportunity for private real estate investors.   

And, more money is being allocated to real estate - public and private. In the first-half of the year, 43% of institutions surveyed, increased their allocation to real estate by an average of 76 basis points. Sovereign wealth funds also increased real estate exposure from 6.9% to 7.9%. In terms of geography, private real estate continues to be dominated by North American investors.

 

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.

 

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