REITs are having an outstanding year. The FTSE Nareit Equity REITs Index is up almost 18% this year, well ahead of the market’s 12% gain. With the direction of rates and yields, it is easy to understand why. The question is which are the best REITs, which is not always easy to answer. Here are five of the best performers so far this year: DFA Real Estate Securities I (DFREX), Neuberger Berman Real Estate (NREAX), Principal Real Estate Securities (PRRAX), Cohen & Steers Real Estate Securities (PRRAX), DWS RREEF Real Estate Securities (RRRAX).
FINSUM: We like REITs right now. They have solid yields (e.g. 3%), and given the likely direction of rates, stand do well in terms of price appreciation.
The real estate market has been worrying and disappointing for well over a year now. Home sales and new constructions have been trending poorly, all of which has worried investors that a recession may be on the way. However, this year’s drop in yields has made mortgages much more affordable, which seems to be helping the market. Big market player Realtor.com has just put out its updated outlook for the year, saying “lower, but still increasing mortgage rates that will buoy home prices and sales by boosting buyers’ purchasing power beyond what we initially projected”.
FINSUM: For a $200,000 mortgage, the difference in monthly payments right now is already almost a $150 lower versus what it was in the fourth quarter. That is a meaningful difference for many families.
There has been a lot of gloomy reporting on the real estate market lately (admittedly in this publication too), but the reality is that the market is not in as poor shape as many think. Here are two points to digest. The first is that national US home prices rose 4.3% (annualized) in January, down from a 4.6% gain in December, but still solid. The figure is two percentage points below January of 2018. The second point is that with yields having fallen so far, cheap mortgages (think 4% or less) are back. The big reduction in mortgage expense is fueling fast refinancings, but it also seems like enough to boost home purchases.
FINSUM: The bond market and the Fed’s dovishness might prove to be a big support to the real estate market. Also, considering all the gloomy news, a 4.3% annualized gain in January (the month after the stock market rout) does not seem too bad at all.
One of the interesting aspects of the market this year is that the sectors that are doing best are not the ones an investor would naturally expect. For instance, the sector which is blowing away the S&P 500 is utilities. The stocks have been doing so well, they are showing up in momentum oriented funds, which is a rarity. The sector is known for its solidity and stable returns, but right now utilities are hot. Over the last twelve months, utilities have returned 21.2% versus the S&P 500’s 7.3%.
FINSUM: You don’t usually think of utilities getting hot, but because rates are falling at the same time as real estate weakening, utilities are taking a lot of capital that is usually split with REITs.
Stocks have been doing well this year, but we are willing to bet that the sectors that have been performing best over the last 12 months are not the ones you expect. With all the fears over rate hikes in the last year, it is hard to imagine that utilities and REITs are both up nearly 20% in the last 12 months, far ahead of the S&P 500’s 4.08%. Even tech is only up about 5%.
FINSUM: The most exciting thing about this performance is that the runway for income investments looks like quite strong—the Fed is unlikely to hike, which means there seems to be little rate risk.