The Real Estate Reel: What data reveals about the recent REIT rally

 
Rich Hill

Rich Hill

Head of Real Estate Strategy & Research

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5 minute read

February 2024

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The worst appears to be behind the listed REIT market, and there is potential for the listed rally to continue. Private real estate, by comparison, is expected to sell off further.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • Full-year 2023 net total returns for private real estate fell to nearly -13% after a fourth quarter selloff while listed REITs were up nearly 12% last year.
  • We believe private commercial real estate price returns will likely trough at around -25% in late 2024, but the worst is behind the listed REIT market, and there is potential for the listed rally to continue.
  • The Q4 rally in listed REITs is neither long or particularly pronounced relative to historical rallies, and we believe REITs are also in a position to become net acquirers of properties.

Transcript

Declines in private real estate. The rally in listed real estate relative to history. And listed REIT premiums to net asset values.

That’s what I’m watching this month.

Welcome to the Real Estate Reel from Cohen & Steers.

First, I’m watching declines in private CRE valuations that occurred in the fourth quarter of 2023.

The NCREIF ODCE index, which tracks around 25 open-ended funds that own core commercial real estate, was down 5 percent in the fourth quarter. By comparison, listed REITs were up nearly 18 percent in the last three months of 2023.

Declines in private real estate
Declines in private real estate

This brought full-year 2023 net total returns for private real estate, again as measured by the NCREIF ODCE index, to nearly negative 13 percent while listed REITs were up nearly 12 percent last year.

This may seem like a significant disconnect, but listed REITs are leading indicators for private real estate in both downturns and recoveries. Indeed, listed REITs were down 25 percent in 2022 while private real estate was still up almost seven percent during that same period.

Similarly, listed REITs were down as much as 30 percent from their peaks in late October of last year while private commercial real estate is currently only down 17 percent from its prospective perspective peak. In other words, the private commercial real estate markets are still catching up to what’s in the price of listed REIT valuations.

We believe private commercial real estate price returns will likely trough at around negative 25% in late 2024, but the worst is behind the listed REIT market, and there is potential for the listed rally to continue.

This brings me to the second point I’m watching: The current listed real estate rally relative to history.

Listed REITs are more than 20% above their late October ’23 trough.

There have been 13 prior rallies that have risen in total returns of more than 10 percentage points without a pullback from peaks of greater than 10 percent, which you can see in this chart. Those rallies have averaged almost 69% and lasted an average of 21.5 months.

The listed rally relative to history

Current REIT rally is not long or pronounced compared to history

The listed rally relative to history

The shortest rally lasted 11 months. Only one rally ended at lower cumulative returns than the 25% rally we saw to end last year. In other words, this rally is neither historically long or particularly pronounced.

That said, the current rally is the second greatest two-month rally on record. It only trails the February ’09 rally when listed REITs rose 36% after two months, which we don’t think is a relevant comparison to today as it was aided by Fed monetary stimulus during the Great Financial Crisis.

We believe it’s possible that valuations could pull back 5-7% from local peaks, given the magnitude of the recent rally. Such consolidation often occurs during rallies. For context, the greatest pull back from peak during a rally was -8% in December 2018.

We believe investors should be buyers of listed REITs in the event of a pullback. We highlight that the sector stands almost negative five percent below their local peaks in late 2023 as of January 26, 2024.

The third point I’m watching is listed REIT premiums to their net asset values. Based on Green Street data, NAVs have risen from discounts of negative 16 percent toward the end of October 2023 to premiums of almost 8% percent toward the end of January 2024.

On the surface, this might suggest that listed REITs are expensive to private market valuations, but we think the premiums indicate that markets may finally be giving the sector the so-called green light to begin net acquiring assets. As you can see in this chart, listed REITs have been net sellers of asset since 2015. The shift stands to reason. Public markets force discipline on listed REITs by having them to sell assets when private valuations are expensive and then buy assets when private valuations begin to cheapen.

REIT premiums to net asset values

Listed REITs have historically acquired assets in similar market conditions

REIT premiums to net asset values

We’ve seen this movie before. During 2000 to 2004 and again in 2010 to 2014, listed REITs net acquired assets as premiums to NAVs afforded them an attractive cost of capital. We think this scenario can happen again, especially because listed REITs can issue debt at much more attractive levels via the senior unsecured market. Where s private peers that must rely primarily on mortgage financing.

If listed REITs start acquiring assets, then their earnings will grow, and their valuations may not be as expensive as perceived on the surface.

Subscribe to The Real Estate Reel via the link on screen and tune in next month to see what we’re watching next.


Watch January 2024 The Real Estate Reel: European real estate investing – Three data points we’re watching now

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ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Author Profile Picture

Rich Hill, Senior Vice President, is Head of Real Estate Strategy & Research, responsible for identifying allocation opportunities in both listed and private real estate and related thematic and strategic research.

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