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Ranked: Real Estate Returns by Property Sector (2012-2021)

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Real Estate Return on Investment

This infographic is available as a poster.

Real Estate Return on Investment by Sector

For the ninth year in a row, Americans say real estate is the best long-term investment.

However, what might be less clear to the average investor are the different types of investments available within the real estate sector, and how they compare. Real estate return on investment within property sectors has historically been uneven, and 2021 was no exception. While residential property soared, office real estate has performed relatively poorly.

Are there any patterns in the top performers over time?

This Markets in a Minute from New York Life Investments ranks real estate return on investment by sector over the last decade.

Sector Returns Over Time

We used data from the National Association of Real Estate Investment Trusts to show real estate return on investment by year. A real estate investment trust is a company that owns, operates, or finances income-producing real estate.

Here’s how total returns stack up by property sector, sorted from highest to lowest return in 2021.

 2012201320142015201620172018201920202021
Self Storage19.9%9.5%31.4%40.7%-8.1%3.7%2.9%13.7%12.9%57.6%
Residential6.9%-5.4%40.0%17.1%4.5%6.6%3.1%30.9%-10.7%45.8%
Industrial31.3%7.4%21.0%2.6%30.7%20.6%-2.5%48.7%12.2%45.4%
Retail26.7%1.9%27.6%4.6%1.0%-4.8%-5.0%10.7%-25.2%41.9%
Diversified12.2%4.3%27.2%-0.5%10.3%-0.1%-12.5%24.1%-21.8%20.5%
Infrastructure29.9%4.8%20.2%3.7%10.0%35.4%7.0%42.0%7.3%18.6%
Timber37.1%7.9%8.6%-7.0%8.3%21.9%-32.0%42.0%10.3%16.4%
Mortgage19.9%-2.0%17.9%-8.9%22.9%19.8%-2.5%21.3%-18.8%14.7%
Office14.2%5.6%25.9%0.3%13.2%5.3%-14.5%31.4%-18.4%13.4%
Healthcare20.4%-7.1%33.3%-7.3%6.4%0.9%7.6%21.2%-9.9%7.7%
Lodging/Resorts12.5%27.2%32.5%-24.4%24.3%7.2%-12.8%15.7%-23.6%6.3%

Data for 2021 is as of November 30. Specialty and data center sectors are excluded as this data was only available from 2015 onwards.

Self Storage real estate was the best performing sector for the last two years, and also performed well during the 2015 market correction. It tends to perform well when people’s lives are disrupted, such as when they’re moving for a new job, schooling, or due to marriage or divorce. In the case of COVID-19, self storage got an extra boost from people wanting more space in their home amid remote work.

Timber and Industrial real estate have been in the top three performing sectors for at least half of the last decade. Industrial real estate, a category including properties that enable the production, storage, and distribution of goods, has seen increased demand due to the rise of e-commerce. One estimate says the U.S. could require an extra billion square feet of warehouse space by 2025.

On the other hand, the Lodging/Resort sector has frequently been one of the bottom performers. A form of discretionary spending, hotel stays may be one of the first expenses people cut when the economy is in a downturn. This weakness was compounded by lockdown restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

What is a Good Return on Investment in Real Estate?

In light of the above data, investors may be wondering which sectors are “the best” to invest in.

The short answer: it depends. Here’s how real estate return on investment has varied within sectors, using the minimum, median, and maximum returns. We’ve sorted the data from the highest to lowest standard deviation, a measure of risk.

Real Estate Return on Investment

While Timber and Self Storage have delivered strong returns, they have also been relatively risky, with some of the widest variations in returns.

Industrials have seen the highest median return, and their risk is about middle of the pack. The second highest median return goes to the Mortgage sector, which earns income from the interest on mortgages and mortgage-backed securities. The mortgage sector has seen less risk than most other real estate categories, at least in the last decade.

For investors with a lower risk tolerance, Infrastructure may be a sector to consider. These properties had a positive return on investment for all of the last 10 years, and had the lowest risk of any property sector.

Patterns Within Real Estate Return on Investment

By looking at historical patterns, investors can consider how economic conditions may affect real estate return on investment.

Sectors associated with discretionary spending, such as Retail and Lodging, have tended to perform poorly during downturns. On the other hand, Self Storage and Residential properties have historically been more resilient during the 2015 selloff and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Future trends may also offer food for thought. For example, as the population ages and the government puts an increased focus on critical facilities, could the Healthcare and Infrastructure sectors be poised for growth?

Whichever sector(s) an investor focuses in on, real estate serves as an alternative investment that can help diversify any portfolio.

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Markets in a Minute

Explainer: A Visual Introduction to Fed Tapering

Broadly speaking, Fed tapering is the reversal of quantitative easing. We show the history of Federal Reserve bond tapering and how it works.

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Fed Tapering

Explainer: A Visual Introduction to Fed Tapering

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The Federal Reserve began tapering its large-scale asset purchases in November 2021, a move likely influenced by:

  • Rising inflation
  • Improving unemployment
  • Strong U.S. GDP growth

More than $4 trillion in capital was injected into the economy through quantitative easing (QE), over the course of the pandemic, inflation is at 40-year highs, and unemployment levels hover below 4%.

As Fed policy responds to a recovering U.S. economy, this Markets in a Minute chart from New York Life Investments shows how Fed tapering works, and its impact on the economy.

How Fed Tapering Works

Fed tapering is the unwinding of the Federal Reserve’s large-scale asset purchases.

After the 2008 financial crisis, large scale asset purchases were introduced for the first time to inject liquidity into the market and help restore confidence. During the pandemic, they were introduced once more, at a rate of $120 billion per month.

Here’s how it works:

  1. The U.S. central bank buys government bonds typically in the form of Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities (MBS).
  2. This influx of demand leads to a rise in these bond prices and their yields (interest rates) fall.
  3. As this lowers the interest rate on the government bonds, what often follows is lower interest rates on loans for households and businesses.
  4. Lower rates stimulate spending.
  5. When the economy is running well, the bank may unwind asset purchases to help keep inflation low, otherwise known as Fed tapering.
  6. Notably, Fed tapering and QE is hotly debated among economists. Those in favor say QE is a critical tool for stimulating the economy. Those against say that it inflates asset prices and contributes to inequality.

    Inflation Levels

    The consumer price index (CPI) rose 7% in December, the highest rise since 1982.
    Fed Tapering

    Given this increase, Lawrence Summers, former U.S. Treasury Secretary and Jason Furman, former chief economist for President Obama say that the Fed didn’t taper soon enough. Other financial heavyweights suggest this is just the beginning of a hawkish approach to inflation.

    So how does Fed tapering impact inflation?

    By tapering asset purchases, the amount of money circulating in the economy that can be used to borrow to buy a house or car is reduced. According to this theory, when there is less spending, inflation will gradually cool down.

    Fed Tapering and Interest Rates

    The Federal Reserve has outlined that it will taper asset purchases before it increases targets on short-term interest rates. By current estimates, interest rates could rise in March.

    However, if the pandemic takes a turn for the worse, the Federal Reserve can shift direction. This gives the Fed time to assess how the market and economy will react before it raises rates.

    To prevent the taper tantrum of 2013, which led to market volatility and U.S. dollar appreciation, Federal Reserve chair Jerome Powell has stated that the Fed must carefully communicate the sequence of QE and tapering to prevent any fear in the market.

    When Doves Cry

    Like the 1940s, the rise in money growth over the pandemic has been driven by government deficits. By contrast, leading up to the 2008 Global Financial Crisis or during the 1950s and 60s, the private sector spurred loan growth.

    Monetary inflation can impact consumer prices and financial asset inflation.

    As CPI and financial markets have soared over the pandemic, investors will be watching closely to see how Fed tapering impacts future monetary policy.

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Markets in a Minute

The Projected Growth of Alternative Assets

Alternative assets — assets beyond stocks and bonds — are projected to grow by 62% from 2020-2025. Here’s which ones may grow the fastest.

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Alternative Assets

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The Projected Growth of Alternative Assets

When it comes to investing, the focus is typically on stocks and bonds. However, in recent years, many investors have turned their attention to another opportunity: alternative assets.

In fact, global assets under management (AUM) in alternatives are projected to grow by 62% from 2020-2025. In this Markets in a Minute from New York Life Investments, we explain what alternative assets are and which categories will see the most growth.

What are Alternative Assets?

Alternative assets are investments that fall outside of the traditional asset classes of stocks, bonds, and cash. They are broken up into the following asset classes:

  • Private equity: Investing in companies that are not publicly traded or listed on a stock exchange. This can also include the acquisition of public companies by a private investment fund or investor.
  • Private debt: Investing in companies in the form of debt as opposed to equity. Private debt is not typically financed by banks, nor traded or issued in an open market.
  • Hedge funds: Largely unregulated funds that can invest across a wide range of asset classes and instruments. These funds aim to ‘hedge’ risk and maximize profits regardless of which direction the market moves through long (buy) or short (sell) positions.
  • Real estate: The acquisition, financing, and ownership of real estate assets by private investment vehicles, funds, or firms. This includes residential, commercial, and industrial properties both at the time of original listing and when being sold between two parties afterwards.
  • Infrastructure: Investment in services and facilities considered essential to the economic development of a society. This includes energy, logistics, telecoms, transportation, utilities, and waste management.
  • Natural resources: Investment in the development, enhancement, or production of various types of natural resources. This includes agriculture, renewable energy, timberland, water, and metals.

In contrast to traditional markets, alternative assets are typically less liquid and less regulated.

Global Growth

According to Preqin, all alternative asset classes will see significant growth in global AUM. Here’s how the projections break down from 2020 to 2025:

 20202021P2022P2023P2024P2025PCAGR
Private equity4.4T$5.1T$5.9T$6.8T$7.9T$9.1T15.6%
Private debt$848B$945B$1.1T$1.2T$1.3T$1.5T11.4%
Hedge funds$3.6T$3.7T$3.8T$4.0T$4.1T$4.3T3.6%
Real estate$1.0T$1.1T$1.1T$1.2T$1.2T$1.2T3.4%
Infrastructure$639B$668B$697B$729B$761B$795B4.5%
Natural resources$211B$222B$233B$245B$258B$271B5.1%
Total$10.7T$11.7T$12.9T$14.1T$15.5T$17.2T9.8%

Private equity will grow the fastest, and will also see the highest growth in dollar terms. In fact, its proportion of alternative assets’ AUM is expected to rise from 41% in 2020 to 53% in 2025. Preqin predicts that this will be due to both strong performance and asset flows, with 79% of surveyed investors planning to increase their allocation to private equity.

Private debt is also expected to see strong growth. With greater risk appetite than banks, private debt funds could be active in emerging technologies such as pharmaceuticals and the remote working industry. These funds take on higher risk in anticipation of higher yield potential, an attractive proposition for investors amid low interest rates in many areas.

Similarly, investors will likely turn to real estate for its yield potential. Long-leased assets usually offer stable cash flows and indexed rents, making them one of the asset classes that may hedge inflation. However, the industry is projected to have the lowest compound annual growth rate, given the uncertainty facing office and retail spaces post COVID-19.

The Opportunities in Alternative Assets

Outside of investments such as liquid alternatives, alternative assets have typically only been accessible to institutional investors. However, recent regulatory changes by the U.S. Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) mean that private markets are opening up to individual investors if they meet certain criteria.

Alternative assets offer a number of compelling opportunities, including portfolio diversification, lower correlation with public markets, and potential outperformance. In fact, research has found that private equity was the best-performing asset class in a public pension portfolio, based on median annualized returns from 2010-2020.

According to Preqin’s projections, it appears investors are realizing this potential. While stocks and bonds will likely remain central to portfolios, alternative assets can help to broaden investors’ horizons.

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