This Secret Loophole Could Pay Off Huge For REIT Investors


There was a time whenreal estate was out of reach for the small investor.

Back in President Dwight D. Eisenhower's era, policymakers in Washington noted a clear conundrum. A real estate boom was under way, but most small investors were missing out. It would cost alot ofmoney to build a shopping mall or an office tower, and the lucrative business of being a professionallandlord was reserved to those who hadlots offunds .

But no more. Since the 1950s, and thanks to Eisenhower, we've hadinvestment instruments that the little guy can participate in -- real estate investment trusts, better known as REITs. And now, it's not just real estate firms cashing in on the tax advantages of REITs.

I'll tell you more about those big tax advantages in a minute.

REITs are like regularstocks , trading on the major exchanges such as the New YorkStock Exchange. They are a class of real estate investment firms that can draw in the funds of smaller investors: You can buy even a single share.

These firms, run by real estate professionals, adhere to one simple rule: More than 90% of profits every year have to be returned to investors in the form of dividends. Yet by doing so, all of those profits made by REITs can bypass federaltaxes . Profits are only taxed at the level of individual shareholders.

But there's an interesting movement afoot. It's aloophole non-real estate companies have taken advantage of, one on which investors can nowcash in. For tax reasons, the REIT corporate structure has begun to appeal to many firms outside the traditional realm of office buildings, shopping malls and apartment complexes. Take Internet data traffic management firm Equinix (Nasdaq: EQIX) .

In early 2012, media reports circulated that the company's stock would zoom higher if Equinix decided to reclassify itself as a REIT. The company's public comments seemed to suggest that the idea had merit. After all, Equinix owned many large and valuable buildings (where its Internet-traffic equipment resides) and the company was financially strong enough to pass on most of its profits to investors.

The company successfully petitioned the InternalRevenue Service to let it become an REIT in September 2012. Investors who had spotted this move coming profited handsomely.

Since then, a number of firms have followed Equinix's lead, hoping for similar gains.

Why would these stocks move up in value? Because lower taxes means more money left over for shareholders.

Look for this trend to continue throughout this year.

Today, there are now more than 400 REITs across a few dozen countries, collectively managing roughly $1 trillion worth of real estate. Popular publicly-traded REITs in the United States include:

- Simon Property Group ( SPG ) , which focuses on shopping malls

- Public Storage ( PSA ) , self-storage facilities

- HCP ( HCP ) , hospitals and other health care facilities

- Ventas ( VTR ) , hospitals/health care

Equity Residential ( EQR ) , apartment complexes

- Boston Properties (BXP) , office complexes

But for all of their appeal, because REITs must pass on almost all of their profits, they have little funds left over to pursue growth. If they choose to expand, then they often sell newly-issued stock, which meansearnings per share won't grow very much (as profits from growth initiatives and the share count grow at a similar pace). So investors really look at these firms as income producers and don't expect to see robust share priceappreciation .

Of course, thedividend yield that these firmsoffer is continually weighed against the payouts that other income-producinginvestments offer. In recent years, REITs have held a great deal of appeal relative to governmentbonds andcertificate ofdeposits  (CDs ) because these financial instruments often offer yields below 2%. In contrast, theyield for an REIT can approach 4% or even 6%.

But whatwill happen when traditionalfixed-income investments like government bonds and bank CDs start to offer more attractive yields when the Federal Reserve starts raising interest rates? Well, the yield on REITs will also have to rise, because REITs are more risky than bonds and CDs.

Riscks to Consider: Because these REITs can't magically produce higher income streams to boostdividend payments, the only way for these yields to rise is for their share price to fall. (Remember that a dividend yield moves in the opposite direction of a stock price.) That's why REITs may not be a great investment once we enter a period of rising interest rates.

Action to Take --> But we're not there yet, and right now REITs continue to hold relatively strong appeal in this low-yield, low-inflation environment. With any income-producing investment, higher dividend yields reflect greater possible risk. So a REIT with a relatively high yield may be seen as having a weaker set of real estate assets. The right REIT for you depends on your risk appetite.

This article originally appeared on
This Secret Loophole Could Pay Off Huge For REIT Investors

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The NASDAQ OMX Group, Inc.

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This article appears in: Investing , Investing Ideas , Stocks

Referenced Stocks: EQR , HCP , PSA , SPG , VTR



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