As vaccines continue to be administered in higher quantities and huge portions of the economy begin to reopen, investors are trying to determine how they should invest in a post-pandemic world.
With tech stocks dropping and the market’s momentum cycling toward value investments, it’s clear that all eyes are on beaten-down sectors that promise big profits in an economic recovery. Movie theaters, airlines, and brick-and-mortar retailers are just a few of the industries investors are watching, but they shouldn’t forget about real estate.
Real estate investment trusts, or REITs — companies that must distribute at least 90% of taxable income to shareholders each year via dividends — took a beating in 2020. While the S&P 500 climbed roughly 18% over the course of last year, the real estate sector finished down 2%. Luckily for investors, that means there are plenty of cheap REIT stocks ready to take off as the economic recovery begins. Here are the three real estate subsectors investors should be watching this year, along with one cheap REIT per subsector add to your portfolio:
— Shopping centers: Federal Realty Investment Trust (ticker: FRT)
— Housing: AvalonBay Communities (AVB)
— Data centers: Digital Realty Trust (DLR)
Shopping Centers: Federal Realty Investment Trust (FRT)
Brick-and-mortar retailers took a heavy hit last year as consumers stayed at home, shopping and ordering online in record numbers.
Even as retailers struggled, they didn’t feel the pain quite like malls and shopping centers — while their tenants may have been able to transition to online retail, shopping center landlords were left holding the bag. The result was an extremely difficult year for shopping center REITs like Federal Realty Investment Trust, whose shares plummeted around 30% in 2020.
Federal Realty’s property portfolio largely consists of shopping centers — some are grocery-store anchored and others are so-called “super regional” shopping centers, but all of them saw a dramatic decline in business last year.
Yet Anish Malhotra, co-founder and CEO of Plotify, thinks this is exactly the time to be investing in shopping center REITs like Federal Realty. He believes that “upon reaching herd immunity, we will start to see revenge eating, revenge working out and even revenge pampering” that will directly benefit malls and shopping centers.
Other macroeconomic factors should benefit shopping centers like those owned by Federal Realty, including an urban exodus to suburban homes. Malhotra thinks the combination of larger suburban populations combined with more time spent in the ‘burbs thanks to the flexibility afforded by working from home will “continue to drive strong foot traffic in open-air retail for years to come.”
Federal Realty, with properties located in and around some of the largest metro areas in the country, will enjoy the benefits of these trends — while shareholders will enjoy a 4.2% dividend yield.
Housing: AvalonBay Communities (AVB)
The U.S. housing market has gotten incredibly hot over the last few months as housing supply dwindles and home prices soar.
The problem is that many millennials who moved to major metropolitan areas for work and leisure now find themselves unable to enjoy either, and they have begun to look to the suburbs for better quality of living.
Ed Carey, CEO of Audience Town, says that “urban knowledge workers are on the move in large numbers to suburbs, warmer weather, lower taxes and smaller cities.” With good homes in short supply, many of these young workers have no choice but to rent for a while before finding a house.
How do investors take advantage of this? Carey says that “REITS with suburban holdings and heavy exposure in multifamily residential for the next year will be good,” and he points to AvalonBay Communities as a perfect pick.
AvalonBay has had a tough 2020, with full-year core funds from operation down 7% and same-store revenue down 3.2%. That said, occupancy improved in the fourth quarter, and the company expects new development starts to rebound over the course of 2021. A large, diversified portfolio of properties plus favorable housing-market trends make AvalonBay a strong pick for an economic recovery — and a 3.4% dividend yield doesn’t hurt, either.
Data Centers: Digital Realty Trust (DLR)
The pandemic has triggered a domino effect of changes, and perhaps the greatest change of all has been the shift to a work-from-home model of business.
Last year, many companies had no choice but to let their employees work out of their homes, spurring huge demand for data as people hopped on the internet not only to clock in at the office but to stream movies and download video games in record numbers.
This has been a boon for Digital Realty Trust, one of the largest data center real estate companies in the country. As people continue to work from home and companies further invest in cloud computing, Digital Realty is well-positioned to profit.
Ryan P. Johnson, director of portfolio management and research for Buckingham Advisors, thinks that Digital Realty has a big opportunity ahead of it. In the short term, he believes that margins will increase thanks to “higher occupancy levels and merger synergies from the purchase of InterXion,” a European data center operator that DLR acquired last year. As for the long term, Johnson says that Digital Realty has a “long runway for growth as the global digital economy continues to expand and data storage and processing needs increase.”
In the meantime, investors will profit from a solid 3.4% dividend yield.