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Real Estate Sector Rating: Marketperform

Real estate sector overview

Low interest rates can make dividend-paying equity real estate investment trusts (REITs) more attractive, a factor that has supported them in recent years. Apartment and office markets have been generally strong, supporting rents; however, supply is rising, which could pressure profitability. Also, an ongoing shift away from brick-and-mortar retailers could pressure mall REITs, but that story seems well known. We recently upgraded the sector to marketperform.

Market outlook for the real estate sector

The real estate sector been seen as a safe-haven of sorts at times of heightening trade tensions, while also appearing to benefit from investors’ search for yield. Strategas reports that the group has the second-lowest percentage (behind utilities) of revenues coming from foreign sources out of all 11 sectors. We still have concerns about apartment and mall demand, which appears to have dented performance in the past year, and we think that those could reemerge at times. It’s that rough balance of the risk and return characteristics that leads us to keep our marketperform rating on the group and to suggest that investors not use the sector as a replacement for fixed income securities.

There are still areas for concern. For instance, apartment demand has been strong and rental rates have risen—but as often happens, businesses have seen a need and rushed to fill it, which could result in an eventual oversupply in the apartment area. Retail REITs also face some headwinds, but, as mentioned, this is an area on which we’re becoming more positive. As longtime readers of this publication know, I am not a believer in the “death of brick-and-mortar” story that seems to be told quite often. From media reports you would think online sales have completely overtaken brick and mortar, but e-commerce made up only about 10.7% of total retail sales at the end of Q2, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

One last major concern has been reduced. REITs have been able to borrow money at low rates in order to increase their holdings and potentially their income. Rates continue to be historically low, but it could be dangerous to assume that they will remain so for an extended period, and even a modest rise in rates could negatively impact the real estate sector.

Factors that may affect the real estate sector

Positive factors for the real estate sector include:

  • Low interest rates: Low rates have enabled real estate investors to buy property with relatively "cheap" money, which provides the potential for greater income.
  • Expanding economy: An expanding U.S. economy typically helps the real estate area, as rental rates increase for apartments, retail and office buildings.
  • Apartment trends: Due to the financial crisis and housing crash, as well as demographic factors, demand for apartments has been strong, supporting rental rates and benefiting those companies that have a stake in that arena.


Negative factors for the real estate sector include:

  • Resumption of rising interest rates: Higher rates would likely raise the cost of financing, and could make the yield provided by the group less attractive.
  • Apartment trends—part 2: This has been a positive factor, but we may be at an inflection point, where supply starts to exceed demand and millennials start to be more attracted to houses.
  • Changing consumer: There has been a move toward online shopping, away from brick-and-mortar stores, which could hurt certain mall-related investments as department stores pare back the number of locations.


Clients can see our top-rated stocks in the real estate sector.

Want to learn more about a specific sector?  Click on a link below for more information or visit Schwab Sector Views to see how they compare.

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