Chart Of The Week – REITs In Ruins

How quickly things change. REITs are traditionally seen as a way to get into real estate, though still featuring risky equity-like characteristics. After all, REIT ETFs plunged 70-80% during the Great Financial Crisis. Massive rallies took place in the early-mid 2000s and again from the March 9, 2009 bottom through the early part of 2020.

Then COVID-19 struck... and REITs basically went from defensive asset to COVID asset.

Thus, REITs are now becoming a proxy for life normalizing in a post-COVID-19 world. Retail spaces, hotels & leisure activity businesses make up a decent chunk of the asset class. Tenants unable to pay their rents due to economic shutdowns obviously crushes the businesses of REITs who usually have reliable cash flow and make big dividend payments to their investors. Looking at daily price-action of late, you’ll see that REIT funds are either among the top gainers and biggest losers – it’s all or nothing.

What’s more, fundamentally, lending standards have tightened. Sure, interest rates are essentially at record lows, but if banks are unwilling to take on risk, it doesn’t matter much. It will take time for the credit environment to loosen even with the Fed stepping in to back significant areas of the debt market. In fact, recent data from the latest bank loan officer survey suggests credit conditions have tightened.

It’s not all dire though. Some REIT niches have held up nicely. Industrial & Specialty REITs are flat to even higher from a year ago. The hard-hit spots include Retail & Hotel/Resort/Leisure REITs – those are down some 60% year-on-year.

(Click on image to enlarge)

  That’s the narrative and performances, but what about the current valuations? 

As noted in the latest Weekly Macro Themes reportREIT valuations are still elevated versus their long-term average. Keep in mind that the 40-year bull market in bonds has certainly been a tailwind for anything to do with real estate or just plain yield for that matter. REIT valuations have been trending higher for decades. Compared to more recent history though, their multiples have eased to about the lowest level since Q3 2011 and could present an opportunity. But other areas of the equity markets are trading much cheaper.

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