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.1 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.

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.