When investors seek to take advantage of publicly listed real estate opportunities, they often favor traditional REIT common stock to gain exposure. This makes sense — from Oct. 1, 2008 through Sept. 30, 2018, US REIT common stock has provided attractive returns coupled with income generation, potential diversification benefits and a potential hedge against inflation. However, we believe US REIT preferred stock may offer a unique opportunity for investors to access real estate like returns with even higher income (and lower volatility) versus traditional REIT common stock. A real estate investment trust (REIT) is a company that owns (and typically operates) income producing real estate or real estate related assets.
Preferred stock is class of ownership in a corporation that has a higher claim on its assets and earnings than common stock.
Understanding US REIT preferred securities
REIT preferred stock is a type of hybrid security with both equity- and bond-like characteristics. Within the capital structure of REIT companies, preferred stocks have a senior claim to earnings and dividends versus common stock but are generally junior to corporate bonds. The dividends paid on REIT preferred stock are often considerably higher than REIT common stock and shares are generally issued at a par value (often $25). While REIT preferred shareholders have no voting rights, they can often benefit from investing when issues are trading at discounts to par. REIT preferred stock is generally callable after five years from the date of issuance, at which point management reserves the right to redeem the shares at par. This five-year non-call period provides the potential not only for income, but also capital appreciation. The five-year non-call period also gives investors a more certain return opportunity over the time period, which may be an additional benefit.
Why do companies issue REIT preferred stock?
So why do REIT companies issue preferred stock at all given the options of simply issuing common equity or traditional corporate debt? First, when REIT companies issue preferred stock (versus traditional corporate debt) they are often given more favorable treatment by rating agencies. This allows companies to showcase lower leverage levels to prospective investors and analysts. Second, REIT preferred stock provides companies with a unique source of capital. While these shares are generally callable after five years at par, company management reserves the right to keep the shares outstanding in perpetuity. A broad array of REIT companies offer preferred stock, including those that operate in sectors focused on residential, office, retail, industrial, self-storage, data centers, infrastructure, healthcare and lodging. While the universe of US REIT preferred stock is relatively small by number of issuers and total capitalization, the benefits to investors have historically been quite compelling.
A comparison: US REIT preferred stock versus US REIT common stock
Over the last ten years – since the global financial crisis in October 2008 to the present – REIT preferred stock has outperformed REIT common stock with roughly half the volatility. The higher level of income generated by the preferred shares, coupled with the potential for capital appreciation for discounted securities, has allowed this segment of the capital structure to generate excess returns.
Over the past ten years, US REIT preferred stock has outperformed US REIT common stock
Over the last ten years, ZARZAR LAND has also observed that US REIT preferred stock has tended to outperform REIT common stock during periods of rising interest rates. We believe that the higher level of yield spreads versus the 10-year Treasury and other preferred sectors have allowed these securities to insulate themselves more to periods of rising interest rates.
US REIT preferred stock has tended to outperform REIT common stock during periods of rising rates
Given the yields of US REIT preferred stock today (which generally span from 5% to 8%), investors have the right to question the sustainability of these distributions. Unlike financial preferreds, which have experienced certain periods of double-digit levels of payment defaults, since 2000 the US REIT preferred universe has never seen a year with more than a 1% level of missed payments. In the past 18 years, the average annual default rate for US REIT preferred stock has been a modest 0.25%, reflecting the stable and predictable cashflows generated by real estate-related companies over the period. And in the last four calendar years there have been no defaults in the broader US REIT preferred universe at all. We also believe that convertible REIT preferred securities may create even better tracking relative to REIT common stock and may provide more robust protection against rising interest rates than non-REIT preferred stock.