When most investors think about growth in the stock market, real estate investment trusts (REITs) don’t immediately come to mind. After all, land and buildings have been around for nearly forever. And how can sleepy bits of real estate compete with all of the other facets of the stock market from technology to oil and gas and so many other industries that are profiting from bringing or using the next new thing?
But real estate has a few things going for it. To start, as the adage goes — when it comes to land — they aren’t making any more of it. Well, that’s mostly true except for certain markets such as the territories around Hong Kong and Victoria Harbour.
Then there are the adaptations of land. From residences for technology workers to the actual technology, its real estate and the related buildings from residential to office and of course data centers that enable all of the whiz-bang stuff of the market to actually happen.
And of course, there is the income that comes from real estate. And one of the core things that I’ve learned long ago and use in my portfolio recommendations inside Profitable Investing is that dividends matter. And even if you are not living off of dividend income — just collecting it and piling it up and re-investing is a lot more certain to build up a portfolio’s value over time.
And the simple proof is to look at the general stock market in the S&P 500. If you track the performance of the Index over the past twenty years, the price gain was nice at 113.86%. But when adding in the dividends, the return nearly doubles to 213.49%. So, as I said before, dividends do matter. And for REITs, the dividends are of course much higher than the general market. The yield for the S&P 500 Index is currently sitting at 1.91%, while the yield for REITs is tracked by the Bloomberg U.S. REIT Index is much higher at 4.17%.
Moreover, thanks to the Tax Cuts & Jobs Act of 2017 (TCJA), REIT dividends are worth even more on an after-tax basis. This comes from a line-item in the TCJA whereby investors get to deduct 20% of the dividend income from their taxable income. This comes with the U.S. Treasury instructions for 2018 tax filings that specifies that 1099-DIV have a section 199A with a Box 5 for REIT dividends, which tax software does the calculations. And if you use a pencil and a calculator, there are instructions for Schedule D.
In addition, investors in common stocks inside the S&P 500 are taxed twice. First, the company pays income tax and then investors are taxed on the dividend income. REITs avoid corporate tax and as noted above, the dividends are taxed-advantaged.
But let’s get to the meat of the matter and the headline of this article. For the past trailing year, REITs, as tracked by the Bloomberg REIT Index, have earned a return of 21.48%, which is nearly double the return for the S&P 500 Index at 10.69%. In addition, during the big selloff in stocks during the fourth quarter of last year, REITs did drop in return by 6.07%, but that was way better than the drop in the S&P 500 of 13.53%.
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Three Even Better REITs
The REIT space has plenty of great companies, but it also has many not so great companies. Here are three REITs that stand out from the crowd.
I’ll start with American Campus Communities (NYSE:ACC). This REIT has educational properties focused primarily on dorms for colleges and universities around the nation. This is an attractive market since it has a market for students that need and want to live on or near-by where their classes and activities are happening. The space has been so good that one by one the leading public REITs in this market have been bought out by non-public investments and private equity.
ACC is the one REIT that still focuses on the space. And it is performing with the trailing year return of a much better 27.05%. Revenues are up by 10.60% with a return from funds from operations (FFO) at a nice 9.50%. FFO measures the return from actually leasing out the properties and is a good apples-to-apples measurement for REITs.
It is a value too at only 1.88 times its book of business, including its properties. And the dividend is an attractive 3.85% and has been climbing over the past five years by an average of 5.02%.
Next is WP Carey (NYSE:WPC), which I’ve followed since it came to the public market back in the late 1990s. WP Carey is a large diversified REIT with assets around the U.S. and the globe. Its focus is on doing sale-lease-back transactions, which have owners and occupiers sell their properties and in turn lease them back from WPC. And it also focuses on triple-net leases whereby tenants pay insurance, upkeep and taxes leaving WPC to avoid these costs and risks.
The return over the past trailing year is a whopping 33.81%. And while revenues have slowed a bit recently to a gain of 4.40% — the FFO return is better at 10.60%. And it is also a bargain at only 1.89 times its book value.
And the dividend, which keeps rising every quarter by policy, is even more attractive at 5.30%.
And last up is Medical Properties Trust (NYSE:MPW). This REIT is focused on healthcare properties from hospitals and other facilities. And like WP Carey — MPW focuses on net leases, which lowers its costs and operating risks.
The trailing year return is running at 56.40%. And yet the stock is only at 1.53 times its book value. Revenues are rising at 11.30% and the FFO return is running at 11.60%.
These and other quality REITs should be in everyone’s portfolio if you want better and more certain growth and income along the way. And to learn more from my analysis and other REITs take a look at my Profitable Investing published by InvestorPlace Media.
Neil George is the editor of Profitable Investing and does not have any holdings in the securities mentioned above.
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