Happy 35th to Realty Income's Dividends!

With the broad market undergoing significant volatility over the last month, it can be nice to find some sort of reliability in the investment world. And when it comes to dividends, Realty Income (NYSE: O  ) is quite simply a model of consistency.

Yesterday, Realty Income, a real estate investment trust (REIT), announced that it was increasing its monthly dividend. And while the increase was only a fraction of a penny, equating to an annual increase of $0.0075 per share, it was not the magnitude of the increase that is notable.

The increase marked the 35th consecutive quarter in which Realty Income has upped its dividend, meaning that it has been bumped every single quarter for almost nine years running. Indeed, since going public in 1994, the company has never missed a monthly dividend payment. Even more remarkable is the fact that with the payment of the July dividend, it will have paid a dividend in 432 consecutive months, dating back to the company's founding 36 years ago. Now that's consistency on par with Old Faithful.

How has Realty Income been able to achieve this consistency? For starters, the business lends itself toward regularity. Realty Income owns over 1,600 single-tenant freestanding retail properties that are leased on a long-term basis, typically in the duration of 15 to 20 years. Example tenants include Jiffy Lube, Hollywood Video, and Taco Bell. The properties are typically net-leased, meaning that the tenant is responsible for the taxes, insurance, and maintenance of the property. As such, Realty Income has very low operating expenses. This operating structure generates predictable long-term cash flows for the company, and in turn, consistent dividends for investors.

Not surprisingly, the steady monthly dividends are attractive to individual investors. So attractive, in fact, that only approximately 28% of the company's outstanding shares are held by institutions like mutual funds and pension funds, a figure that is significantly lower than for most REITs. For comparison, in the cases of fellow retail REITs General Growth Properties (NYSE: GGP  ) and KimcoRealty (NYSE: KIM  ) , institutions hold approximately 83% and 66% of the outstanding shares, respectively.

Clearly, the monthly dividend stream is of significant importance to Realty Income's individual shareholders, and given the company's stellar track record, they can probably rely on the monthly dividend checks for the foreseeable future.

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Fool contributor Sean P. Smith is a freelance writer living in St. Louis. He does not own shares of any company mentioned in this article.


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