Friday Highlight  

Are REITs the investment antidote to economic turmoil?

Are REITs the investment antidote to economic turmoil?
(Chuttersnap/Unsplash)

With supply-chain disruptions and high commodity prices likely to keep inflation elevated for a prolonged period of time, the US Federal Reserve is expected to continue raising rates, at least through 2022.

This rising rate environment is posing significant questions for investors on how to be positioned. 

For instance, some investors think they should avoid real estate investment trusts (REITs) when interest rates are rising. History shows us differently.  

Although sharp increases in interest rates may unsettle markets in the near term, history shows that the direction of the economy and job growth tends to have a greater impact on REIT returns than rising rates do.

In other words, the environment that may be pushing the Fed to raise rates is one that can benefit REITs in the form of higher rents while REITs’ characteristics can make them an inflation buffer. 

To put REIT performance into perspective, we analysed the 12 largest one-month increases in the 10-year US Treasury yield dating back to 2000.

The data showed that while REITs have underperformed equities in the immediate aftermath of significant yield increases, they have historically outperformed three, six and 12 months  after such increases.

In the current cycle, inflation remains above trend, growth expectations are slowing and Treasury yields are rising.

At the same time, consumer savings remain solid even though off the peak levels of 2021, and unemployment is holding at historically low levels, with more job openings than unemployed people.

Within this backdrop, REIT fundamentals, in our opinion, are above trend but decelerating.

Though slackening, favourable supply/demand dynamics are supporting healthy estimated earnings growth. Durable and predictable cash flows may provide defensiveness relative to other asset classes.  

This environment is one in which we think active management can become more important as demand slackens and financing costs rise, widening the differences between healthy and weak businesses.

In a higher rate environment, we believe investors should focus on sectors such as self-storage or single-family rentals that will retain pricing power, which can help offset higher financing costs

REITs can be a potential inflation buffer 

Even as the Fed and other central banks raise rates to combat rising prices, we believe inflation is likely to remain higher than it was over the last economic cycle.  

Listed real estate has distinct characteristics that can help provide a buffer to inflation. For example, sectors with shorter lease durations (such as self-storage) have the ability to reset rents promptly as conditions change.

In case of slow growth or even recession longer inflation-linked rental contracts offer relatively strong and steady income growth potential. 

Furthermore, though inflation hurts company profits when costs rise faster than revenues, REITs typically enjoy operating margins of around 60 per cent, reducing the effect of higher costs.

In addition, higher costs for land, materials and labour can reduce the potential profits of development, raising the economic barriers to new supply and reducing potential competition for existing properties.