The National Association of Real Estate Investment Trusts (NAREIT) reported data last week that suggests the REIT industry has been treating investors very well for the past few years. According to NAREIT, price returns on apartment REITs between March 2009 and February 2012 increased a whopping 225 percent.
Needless to say, more and more attention is being paid by investors to this profitable trend. And the fact that REITs are required to pay 90 percent of all taxable income to investors in the form of dividends make them an even more favorable vehicle for extracting yield from this downturned housing market. But the best news might be that many believe these stocks are not even fully valued yet. Fundamentals are expected to remain strong beyond 2012 for REITs, as multifamily construction has been near a 20-year low during the recession and demand still outweighs supply.
“It will take several years to bring enough new apartment stock to the market to meet the pent-up demand, and that gap will create a continuing tailwind for apartment REIT operating fundamentals,” said Calvin Schnure, vice president of research and industry information for NAREIT.
Could investor attention actually be enough to convince some private high-volume multifamily companies to make the move to a publicly traded market? Well, the positive market activity could be a prelude to more initial public offering (IPO) filings from privately held REITs. It’s actually a leap some companies have already taken.
One REIT that’s ready to go public is King of Prussia, Pa.-based Morgan Properties. The company made its initial filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) with a target of $800 million in its initial public offering last summer. The company made the announcement once it hit a large enough portfolio volume and was generating enough income to draw significant investor interest. Currently, Morgan owns and manages 124 apartment communities across the Mid-Atlantic region.
And rumors have been heard for months about Archstone's desire to go public. The company is currently being shopped around by its big bank owner for a potential sale. Equity Residential recently agreed to purchase a 26.5 percent stake in Archstone. But the company’s majority holder is the bankruptcy estate of Lehman Brothers Holdings, which would prefer to take the company public rather than conduct a private sale as Barclays and Bank of America hope. It remains to be seen what will happen to Archstone, but the company is currently valued at $16.6 billion and has high exposure to some of the most sought after metropolitan apartment markets in the country.
Perhaps the most high-profile recent filing in the media was by Empire State Realty Trust, the company with control over the Empire State Building. A few weeks ago, a collection of companies were consolidated to form the REIT in the wake of recent skyrocketing property values in Manhattan. The company’s $1 billion IPO hit a snag, however, in February when a group of investors decided to sue to block the IPO, claiming that the REIT had breached its fiduciary duties in the course of the filing. Despite the setback, Malkin Holdings, the title holder to the Empire State Building believes the IPO will present an opportunity to be more competitive when it comes to acquiring new assets and expanding its portfolio.
Currently, the multifamily sector is fixed in the crosshairs of investors. Opening up to public investments looks to be making sense to more REITs as long as analysts remain bullish on growth from the sector.