Wednesday, March 10, 2010

* Increasing Dividend Yield Part II: REITs

This is the second installment in a multi-part series that looks at various options used by income investors to boost their yield while waiting for dividend growth to lift their portfolio's overall yield-on-cost. Last week we looked at Utilities. This week we are looking at Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs).

Below is some background information on REITs from
Congress created REITs in the U.S. in 1960 as a way to make investment in large-scale, income-producing real estate accessible to all investors in the same way they typically invest otherwise – through the purchase and sale of liquid securities. U.S. REITs have seen their equity market capitalization soar from $90 billion to roughly $200 billion in just the past 10 years.

In order for a company to qualify as a REIT in the U.S., it must comply with certain ground rules specified in the Internal Revenue Code. These include: investing at least 75 percent of total assets in real estate; deriving at least 75 percent of gross income as rents from real property or interest from mortgages on real property; and distributing annually at least 90 percent of taxable income to shareholders in the form of dividends.
The 90% distribution requirement and no corporate taxes are the reasons REITs yields are often above average. However, it is important to note that because REITs pay no income tax, they are not eligible for the special treatment as a "qualified dividends", which are normally taxed at 15%. When comparing REIT yields to investments with qualified dividends, you must always look at them on an after-tax basis.

Consider an example where a taxpayer with a federal marginal tax rate of 30% owns AT&T (T) with a yield of 6.56% and Universal Health Realty Income Trust (UHT) with a yield of 6.82%. On an after-tax basis T, which qualifies for the 15% tax rate, will yield 5.58%, while UHT will only yield 4.78%.

Like utilities, most REITs rely on new capital either in the form of debt or equity to fund investments, pay debt and pay dividends, albeit to a lesser extent. Consider the following:

Universal Health Realty Income Trust (UHT) - Yield: 6.82%
Shares Outstanding: 2000 9m; 2008 11m
Long-Term Debt: 1999 $75.2m; 2008 $32.7m
Years of Negative Free Cash Flow: 0 of 10

National Retail Properties, Inc. (NNN) - Yield: 6.76%
Shares Outstanding: 2000 30m; 2009 79m
Long-Term Debt: 1999 $101.7m; 2009 $0m ($961.1m in short-term)
Years of Negative Free Cash Flow: 5 of 10

HCP, Inc. (HCP) - Yield: 6.12%
Shares Outstanding: 2000 102m; 2009 274m
Long-Term Debt: 2000 $1,158.9m; 2009 $5,456.1m
Years of Negative Free Cash Flow: 5 of 10

Realty Income Corporation (O) - Yield: 6.00%
Shares Outstanding: 2000 53m; 2009 103m
Total Debt: 2000 $404m; 2009 $1,354.6m
Years of Negative Free Cash Flow: 7 of 10

Essex Property Trust (ESS) - Yield: 4.56%
Shares Outstanding: 2000 18m; 2009 29m
Long-Term Debt: 2000 $595.5m; 2009 $0.0m ($1,847.4m short-term)
Years of Negative Free Cash Flow: 6 of 10

Corporate Office Properties Trust, Inc. (OFC) - Yield: 4.07%
Shares Outstanding: 2000 25m; 2009 56m
Long-Term Debt: 2000 $193.7m; 2009 $0.0m ($2,053.8m short-term)
Years of Negative Free Cash Flow: 9 of 10

Federal Realty Investment Trust (FRT) - Yield: 3.67%
Shares Outstanding: 2000 39m; 2009 59m
Long-Term Debt: 2000 $485.3m; 2009 $1,731.6m
Years of Negative Free Cash Flow: 2 of 10

Each of the above companies are growing their debt and/or shares outstanding, while not always generating sufficient cash to fund their operating expenses, including normal capital replacements (except for UHT). For a company to consistently raise its dividend, it must generate cash flows sufficient to meet operating obligations and to service outstanding debt. Since a REIT is legally required to pay out 90% of its earnings, it is less likely to eliminate its dividend, but it could drastically cut the dividend in the face of persistent weak earnings (like any company).

Similar to the utilities mentioned last week, I purchased some of the above companies many years ago, but I won't be rushing to add to increase my positions.

Full Disclosure: Long T, NNN, HCP, O. See a list of all my income holdings here.
(Photo Credit)

Tags: [ESS] [FRT] [HCP] [NNN] [O] [OFC] [T] [UHT]