Real estate investment trusts (REITs) are designed to pay dividends. Still, new REITs and those undergoing big transformations often don't pay distributions. When they start to, however, it's a good sign that it's time to take a closer look. Here are a few to watch right now.
The public single-family home REIT sector didn't exist until late in 2012, when Silver Bay Realty (NYSE:SBY) came public. It was followed by a few competitors, but the sub-sector is still little more than a year old.
Silver Bay was the first to pay a dividend, too -- a single cent a share each quarter. However, the REIT has been telegraphing a bump in 2014, with CEO David Miller recently saying that "In the third quarter we dramatically slowed our acquisition pace and focused on stabilizing the portfolio." And "...we are working toward stabilizing the great majority of these homes by year end. Achieving this will position us to begin generating positive cash flow and to increase our dividend."
That makes this REIT a good one to watch in the new year, since paying a notable dividend will provide support to the shares, which currently trade below their IPO price. However, this isn't the only single-family home REIT to monitor. Industry big wig American Homes 4 Rent (NYSE:AMH) announced its first dividend, to be paid in 2014, in the third quarter.
The company is in a similar position to Silver Bay, a newly public REIT building its portfolio of homes. However, American Homes doesn't appear to have much of an option on the dividend front. When asked about the $0.05 quarterly dividend, CEO David Singelyn noted the company's projection of "dividend requirements" in addition to other factors.
REITs legally have to pay out 90% of earnings as distributions. American Homes and Silver Bay are clearly maturing to the point where they have to pay dividends. That means future business growth will likely lead pretty directly to dividend growth. Watch American Homes, too -- though neither it nor Silver Bay are likely to blow you away on yield, dividend growth from here could be worthwhile.
Another REIT to keep an eye on is Gramercy Property Trust (NYSE:GPT). This is a REIT that's on the cusp of transforming itself, with CEO Gordon DuGan recently noting "...we're really through all the legacy issues." The company has shifted itself from owning collateralized debt obligations (CDOs) to owning triple net lease properties.
That's an almost night and day transformation since CDOs can be quite volatile and triple net lease properties have a history of stability. And now Gramercy is calling for a reinstatement of the dividend in early 2014.
The interesting thing about Gramercy, however, is that it operates in a mature REIT subsector. It's hard to tell what yield level to expect for single-family home REITs like Silver Bay and American Homes because they're blazing a new trail. Gramercy, on the other hand, will have to compete with industry giants like Realty Income (NYSE:O).
Realty Income's yield is around 5.8% and it has increased its distribution for 65 consecutive quarters. That's an impressive record that includes dividend hikes right through the 2007 to 2009 recession that led other large and well-known REITs, like Simon Property Group, to trim their payouts.
Gramercy doesn't want to compete on yield, focusing instead on growth. But if it doesn't at least get close to Realty Income's yield and consistency, the $500 million market cap REIT will have a hard time attracting investors. That makes this REIT, as it comes to the end of a major transformation, another one to keep a close eye on.
Dividends, what a good idea
There's no telling what will happen when Silver Bay, American Homes, and Gramercy start to focus more on paying distributions. However, all three will get more respect from Wall Street when they do. Moreover, because of the dividend mandate that REITs live under, any future growth is likely to mean more income comes your way. These three are worth a look if you're willing to take on a little risk to get ahead of the dividend curve.
Reuben Brewer has a position in Realty Income. The Motley Fool owns shares of Gramercy Property Trust. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.