REITs: Bond proxy or barometer of economic growth?

Hint: REITs can participate in a growing economy

The September Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) meeting saw the US Federal Reserve increase rates as expected. Additionally, the 10-year US Treasury yield has risen about 42 basis points (bps) off its lows in late August and is up almost 96 bps from a year ago.1 Historically, upward moves in the federal funds rate or US Treasury yields have typically led to diminished sentiment toward real estate investment trusts (REITs) and/or price pressure relative to general equities. But at Invesco Real Estate, we believe investors should remember that REITs are not bond proxies — these assets do not automatically fall in price as interest rates rise. Rising rates often reflect a growing economy, and REIT cash flows (and share prices) may participate in this growth.

Is history repeating itself?

The pattern we have observed with REIT share prices begins with an initial negative reaction to higher rates. This is likely because we believe investors often view REITs as bond proxies and reduce exposure to them in favor of general equity. However, higher rates are often an indication of economic growth — which may help increase real estate demand, drive occupancies (and contractual rent increases) higher and improve REIT cash flows. Looking back to 1994 (which we view as the beginning of the modern REIT era), REIT earnings have grown at nearly the exact pace as the S&P 500 Index, averaging 6.6% per year, while demonstrating less earnings volatility (see Chart one below).

Chart one: REIT earnings growth has kept pace with equities

REIT earnings growth has kept pace with equities
Source: Invesco Real Estate, Bloomberg L.P. and FTSE NAREIT All Equity REIT Index as of June 20, 2018. REIT funds from operations (FFO) growth estimates are derived from consensus estimates of recurring funds from operations which may be adjusted in order to eliminate the effects of one-time items or extraordinary gains or losses. Equity growth is derived from the S&P 500 Index. Trailing 12-month earnings per share (EPS) represent figures from prior years. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. An investment cannot be made directly into an index.

 

Over time, investors have rewarded this increasing (and compelling) level of earnings growth, with US REITs outperforming both general equities and the bond market over the same time period (see Chart two below).

Chart two: REIT returns have outpaced equities and bonds

REIT returns have outpaced equities and bonds
Source: Bloomberg L.P. US REITs represented by the FTSE NAREIT All Equity REITs Total Return Index, US equities represented by the S&P 500 Total Return Index and US bonds represented by the Bloomberg Barclays US Aggregate Index. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. An investment cannot be made directly into an index.

 

Although REITs have produced better historical returns, it bears mentioning that in the short term, these assets do tend to lag their general equity peers during periods of acute long-term interest rate increases. However, as rates stabilize, REITs tend to resume outperformance. Chart three below summarizes total returns versus general equity during and after periods of rising rates going back to 1990. This pattern is clearly illustrated in the left and right columns.

Chart 3: REITs have bounced back after past rate increases

REITs have bounced back after past rate increases
Source: Lipper, Bloomberg L.P. as of June 30, 2018. Acute periods defined as full-month periods between Jan. 1990 and Jan. 2018 where the cumulative rise in 10-year Treasury yields for each period was above 50 basis points. The acute rising periods are Jan – March 1990, Aug 1990, Jan 1992, Oct – Nov 1992, Feb – June 1994, Aug – Nov 1994, Jan – May 1996, Dec – March 1997, Jan – Feb 1999, April – Aug 1999, Oct 1999 – Jan 2000, March – June 2001, Nov – Dec 2001, March 2002, Oct – Nov 2002, June – Aug 2003, April – May 2004, Sep – Oct 2005, Jan – June 2006, April – May 2008, Jan – Feb 2009, April – June 2009, Dec 2009, Sep 2010 – March 2011, May to Aug 2013, Aug 2016 – Jan 2017. US REITs represented by the FTSE NAREIT All Equity REIT Index and US equities represented by the S&P 500 Index. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. An investment cannot be made directly into an index.

 

What’s more, with US monetary policy on a path to normalization, REIT management has taken steps to position for higher rates by extending debt maturities (Chart four) and reducing leverage (Chart five).

Charts four and five: US REITs have extended their maturities and lowered their leverage

US REITs have extended their maturities and lowered their leverage
Source: FTSE NAREIT All Equity REIT Index as of June 30, 2018. US REITs are comprised of the companies within this index. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. An investment cannot be made directly into an index.

 

Key takeaways

It is difficult to forecast whether the future for REITs will mirror the past 25 years, but it is worth noting that fundamentally, we believe REITs are positioned to continue benefiting from a strong economy. Tenant demand is healthy, new office supply is relatively controlled, occupancy rates are high and most property types are experiencing positive rent growth, even 10 years into the economic expansion. And as we have noted before, newer REIT property types such as infrastructure, data centers and timber offer structural growth characteristics on a different cycle than traditional commercial real estate. This may help boost overall REIT growth rates as the current expansion matures.

A short-term drop in investor sentiment toward a capital-intensive business like real estate is understandable in a time of rising rates. However, we believe this misses the larger point — REITs are not bond proxies, and are typically positioned to participate in a growing economy. From a valuation standpoint, US REITs are now trading at about a 5% discount to the value of the underlying real estate as of Oct. 5, 2018.2 Although short-term price volatility is possible due to shifts in monetary policy expectations, trade policy developments and market risk appetites, our analysis suggests that patient investors may be rewarded over the long term by using interest rate-induced sentiment erosion as an opportunity to dollar-cost average into their REIT exposure.

About Invesco Real Estate

Invesco Real Estate has nearly 490 employees in 21 different markets worldwide with assets under management exceeding $65 billion as of June 30, 2018. Our focus areas include US real estate, global real estate, global real estate income, infrastructure and master limited partnerships.

Learn more about Invesco Active U.S. Real Estate ETF, Invesco Real Estate Fund and Invesco Global Real Estate Income Fund.

1 Source: Bloomberg L.P. as of Oct. 8, 2018.

2 Source: Green Street Advisors as of Oct. 8, 2018.

Important information

Blog header image: Sharkshock/Shutterstock.com

A basis point is one hundredth of a percentage point.

A bond proxy is an investment that behaves like a bond — its value can be expected to fall in price as interest rates rise, but increase in value as interest rates rise.

A real estate investment trust (REIT) is a company that owns (and typically operates) income-producing real estate or real estate-related assets.

The S&P 500® Index is an unmanaged index considered representative of the US stock market.

The FTSE NAREIT All Equity REIT Index is an unmanaged index considered representative of US REITs.

The Bloomberg Barclays U.S. Aggregate Bond Index is an unmanaged index considered representative of the US investment-grade, fixed-rate bond market.

Correlation is the degree to which two investments have historically moved in relation to each other.

Dollar-cost averaging is an investment technique of buying a fixed dollar amount of a particular investment on a regular schedule, regardless of the share price. The investor purchases more shares when prices are low and fewer shares when prices are high. Investment in infrastructure-related companies may be subject to high interest costs in connection with capital construction programs, costs associated with environmental and other regulations, the effects of economic slowdown and surplus capacity, the effects of energy conservation policies, governmental regulation and other factors.

Investments in real estate related instruments may be affected by economic, legal, or environmental factors that affect property values, rents or occupancies of real estate. Real estate companies, including REITs or similar structures, tend to be small and mid-cap companies and their shares may be more volatile and less liquid.

Paul Curbo, CFA®

Portfolio Manager, Invesco Real Estate

Paul Curbo is a Portfolio Manager and member of the Real Estate Securities Portfolio Management and Research team with Invesco Real Estate.

Mr. Curbo entered the industry in 1993 and joined Invesco in 1998. Prior to assuming his current position, Mr. Curbo served as a senior research analyst in the real estate research group. He led one of Invesco’s regional teams and directed the firm’s research and strategy efforts in the Western region of the US.

Before joining Invesco, Mr. Curbo was a senior research associate with Security Capital Group, where he was responsible for analyzing multifamily, industrial and office real estate markets. He produced research on economic, demographic and real estate market information for Security Capital’s affiliate companies. Mr. Curbo previously held a position with Texas Commerce Bank.

Mr. Curbo earned a BBA in finance from The University of Texas at Austin and has completed graduate coursework in economic theory and econometrics at The University of Texas at Dallas. He is a CFA charterholder.

Chris Faems, CFA®

Director, Real Estate Securities

Chris Faems is a Director with the Real Estate Securities Portfolio Management and Research

team with Invesco Real Estate. His current duties include researching fundamental and

quantitative information on real estate securities.

Prior to joining Invesco in 2006, Mr. Faems worked at Flagstone Securities as a senior research

analyst focusing on equity research and investment recommendations of mortgage finance

companies. Previously, he worked at Kennedy Capital Management as a research analyst

covering small- and mid-cap financial services companies, and at Stifel, Nicolaus & Co. as an

investment banker in the financial institutions group. He entered the industry in 1996.

Mr. Faems earned a BS degree in finance from Washington University in St. Louis. He is a CFA charterholder.

Paul Curbo is a portfolio manager and member of the Real Estate Securities Portfolio Management and Research team with Invesco Real Estate.

Mr. Curbo entered the industry in 1993 and joined Invesco in 1998. Prior to assuming his current position, Mr. Curbo served as a senior research analyst in the real estate research group. He led one of Invesco’s regional teams and directed the firm’s research and strategy efforts in the Western region of the US.

Before joining Invesco, Mr. Curbo was a senior research associate with Security Capital Group, where he was responsible for analyzing multifamily, industrial and office real estate markets. He produced research on economic, demographic and real estate market information for Security Capital’s affiliate companies. Mr. Curbo previously held a position with Texas Commerce Bank.

Mr. Curbo earned a BBA in finance from The University of Texas at Austin and has completed graduate coursework in economic theory and econometrics at The University of Texas at Dallas. He is a CFA charterholder.

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