Investors hate real estate, and investors love real estate. Both
statements are true right now, creating one of the oddest dichotomies in
More specifically, investors hate real estate investment trusts, which
have lagged behind the S&P 500 by more than 15 percentage points over the
past 12 months. REITs on average are trading a 16.4% discount to the assets
they own, one of the widest gaps that has ever occurred outside of a recession,
according to Green Street Advisors.
But investors love private real estate funds, which don’t trade on the
market and so never are valued at a discount to their assets. Institutions and
rich investors poured $71 billion in equity capital into private real estate
funds that closed last year, according to Preqin. Private-equity firms held $1.2 trillion in real estate assets at the end of
2016, according to consultants PwC.
“There’s a big pile of private capital that wants to own real estate and
a big pile of real estate trading at a discount,” said Jonathan Litt, the chief
investment officer of Land & Buildings, which invests in REITs and has
pressured some companies to take steps to eliminate the discounts.
The love-hate situation is driven by two main factors. Investors have
sold REITs because of rising interest rates, which have left their yields less
attractive. Meanwhile, investors also have been pouring cash into private
equity, hedge funds and other alternative investments on the belief they will
outperform public markets.
Yet REITs historically have outperformed similar private
funds, according to Green Street. And when REITs are trading at big discounts,
as they are today, they outperform by a lot.
The question is why investors would choose to invest in private funds
when publicly traded REITs are on sale. The likely explanation is that
investors believe private funds are less risky because their values don’t
bounce around like stock prices do. Risk, though, isn’t volatility but rather
the chance of a permanent loss of capital.
Veteran real estate investors know that the better reason for avoiding
REITs is that entrenched managements often do little to close the gap such as
selling properties. “There aren’t enough big sellers,” Green Street’s Peter
There are several activist investors currently waging fights to force
boards to act. At Forest City Realty Trust , which owns properties in
New York and elsewhere, nine of 13 board members have stepped down and the
company sold some assets and ended its dual-class share structure as activists
pushed it to take action. Its shares have leveled off after a six-month
But the best strategy for most investors is to grab the REITs at current
discounts and wait for them to shrink, as they always have. With so much
private cash primed to invest in real estate, that could happen pretty quickly.
Click here for the original article from The Wall Street Journal.