The general U.S. stock market has hit some turbulence over the past few weeks. And much of this perhaps is due to a series of objections in the media to the further progress of the U.S. economy and the stock market.
Since the recent peak in the S&P 500 Index on July 26, that index is down — but the real estate investment trust (REIT) market as tracked by the Bloomberg U.S. REIT Index continued to be trading up.
S&P 500 (Red) & Bloomberg U.S. REIT (Green) Indexes Source Bloomberg
This continues the defensive performance of REITs even during challenging times for the general U.S. stock market.
August Can Be Rough for Stocks
However, it is good to note that August can be a challenging time for U.S. stock and bond markets. Trading desks get thinner as folks head to beaches, mountains and all sorts of places in between. Hedge fund gals and guys try to put things on autopilot, with junior partners left to man the con. And even private equity folks make bets that carried interest keeps their ship afloat for their vacation weeks.
So when a few things hit the fan, the markets can swiftly get a little out of whack with the fundamentals.
And this shows up in the U.S. stock market for this month with a surge in volatility. The 10-day volatility in the S&P 500 Index has surged from six-month lows of 5.57% on April 30 to a high on Aug. 15 of 29.21%. That means a whole lot of wildly swinging down and up in the process of the daily trading.
S&P 500 Index 10-Day Historic Price Volatility Source Bloomberg
Volume calculations are less accurate these days, as so many U.S. stocks trade off-exchanges and in private or dark pool exchanges. But from what we can see in volume — for the same trailing six months — the number of shares actually exchanging hands remained subdued.
S&P 500 Index Daily Trading Volume Source Bloomberg
This leads me to recommend that you shouldn’t get too worried about some of the recent general stock market gyrations. Instead, focus on what continues to work for investors — a balance of largely U.S.-focused companies, particularly in real estate investment trusts (REITs). And I’ll present my specific recommendations in a moment.
Needless Headline Risks
But first, I want to present what I do see as a risk beyond near-term volatility. That is the proliferation of political spin on business and economic news. This is where leading newspapers, including the New York Times and the Washington Post, are running an increasing number of front-page stories arguing that U.S. consumers are set to pull back, businesses are frightened about the economy and that recession is near the horizon.
This comes with a just-released survey by the National Association for Business Economics (NABE) which showed that of its members participating during the summer lull, 34% thought that perhaps the U.S. economy could slow into a recession in 2021. But that didn’t stop mainstream news and financial news from running a doomsday message.
I read and consume a whole pile of papers, magazines, journals and more daily, and I’m beginning to see more of this doomsday spin. It reminds me of one of Michael Crichton’s books — State of Fear.
The book’s plot involves public perceptions of global warming and the interests behind various messages of issues revolving around it. But it leads with an example of local television weather reporters. He wrote that the public’s attention will wane unless you ramp up the hype of the potential worst outcomes of weather to get the viewing public into a frenzy and into a state of fear — so that they can’t help but to stay glued to the weather news. And that in the book he argued is what is being done to promote global warming.
REITs Look Positive
The risk for the general stock market is that the ramping up negative spin on economic news will begin to make consumers wary and in turn will slow the economy and damage the stock market. And remember – that the fourth quarter of last year came with a ramped up fear of slowing corporate earnings growth for the next year which led to selling which begat selling until rational heads came back and bought reality of sales and profits sending the S&P 500 Index soaring throughout this year.
But again, REITs held up during the general market sell-off while providing ample dividend yield — which further propelled the segment throughout 2019.
But before you throw in the towel for the general stock market, it pays to look at how actual consumers are perceiving the economy as measured by the Bloomberg Consumer Comfort (Comfy) Index. They remain firmly comfy as they continue to be more so since late 2016. And while the level of the Index dropped last week — it is still quite high with the next report coming this Aug. 22.
Bloomberg Comfy Index Source Bloomberg
And two of the larger retailers in the U.S. market — Target (NYSE:TGT) and Walmart (NYSE:WMT) have reported continued stronger retail sales — further confirming a buoyant consumer sector in the U.S. economy.
But whether consumers pause or continue to participate, REITs remain one of the more attractive parts of the market for dividend income as well as defensive growth in the stock market.
REITs Rule in Performance & Value
REITs not only have done better in the turbulent market of August as noted above, but over the past trailing year including the big downdraft in the S&P 500 Index in the fourth quarter of 2018.
Over the trailing year — the S&P 500 Index had a total return to date of 4.22% while REITs as tracked by the Bloomberg U.S. REIT Index generated a total return of 14.32%.
Total Return S&P 500 Index (Orange) Bloomberg U.S. REIT Index (White) Source Bloomberg
But it isn’t just that REITs continue to do better in the stock market. They also represent a better value right now. Comparing the S&P 500 and Bloomberg REIT Indexes, the average price-to-book value for the S&P is 3.35 times. REITs are a better value at only 2.74 times. And of course, the dividend yield of REITs at an average of 4.2% is measurably better than the barely there yield of the S&P at 1.9%.
Which REITs to Choose
Now, one of the best ways to get easy access to a collection of great REITs is to do it synthetically with exchange-traded funds (ETFs).
I’ll start with a broad-REIT-market ETF with a ultra-low expense ratio in the Vanguard Real Estate ETF (NYSEARCA:VNQ). This is a great REIT ETF which I hold in the model portfolios of my Profitable Investing. The ETF has a dividend yield of 3.6% and has generated a return year to date of 24.3%.
Next is another alternative to the Vanguard ETF with broad exposure to the general U.S. REIT market in the iShares Core U.S. REIT ETF (NYSEARCA:USRT). This, like the Vanguard ETF, has good overall exposure to U.S.-focused real estate companies. The dividend yield is a bit less at 2.9% and the performance year to date is running at a return of 21.7%.
Then I’ll move you onto a segment of the REIT market which I have favored for decades. Net leases in real estate are when companies lease properties. Then the tenants pay for taxes, insurance and general upkeep. This frees up the property owners from many expenses and risks. One of my favorite individual companies in this space is WP Carey (NYSE:WPC). And this REIT is one of the larger holdings of the NetLease Corporate Real Estate ETF (NYSEARCA:NETL). This ETF is newer to the market — listing in March of this year. And since then it has returned 9.8% with a dividend that’s starting with a yield of 2.1%.
One of the particularly real estate segments involves medical properties and health and wellness properties for the aging in the U.S. One of my favorite individual health REITs is Ventas (VTR) which is represented in the Long-Term Care ETF (NASDAQ:OLD). This REIT ETF has generated a return year to date of 22.78% and has a dividend yielding 1.76%.
And last up is another spin on the REIT market theme with mortgage REITs. Under the laws and tax codes of REITs, companies investing and managing mortgages on real estate properties can be set up in the hugely tax-advantaged REIT format. One of the best — if not the best — mortgage REITs which I have followed and recommended for so many years is MFA Financial (NYSE:MFA).
MFA has proven itself through thick and thin – including during the worst in the mortgage markets during 2007-2008. And MFA is a major synthetic holding in the iShares Mortgage Real Estate ETF (BATS:REM). REM has a big yield of 10.1% and has generated a return year to date of 9.56%.
Lastly, for those of you that attended and met me at the San Francisco MoneyShow last weekend — my sincerest thank you. It is always gratifying to meet my readers of my research for InvestorPlace Media and for my subscribers to Profitable Investing.
And since I’ve presented my way to invest in the successful and defensive REIT sector with ETFs, perhaps you might like to see more of my market research and recommendations for further safer growth and bigger reliable income. For more, look at my Profitable Investing. Click here to learn more: https://profitableinvesting.investorplace.com/
Neil George is the editor of Profitable Investing and does not have any holdings in the securities mentioned above.