When will we get a COVID-19 vaccine? This seems to be the billion-dollar question behind the ups and downs of all the reopening stocks -- that is, the companies that stand to benefit as life in the United States returns to normal.
Not surprisingly, many stocks that fall into this category are still down by 50% or more from their pre-pandemic levels. Here's why Ryman Hospitality Properties (NYSE:RHP) and Empire State Realty Trust (NYSE:ESRT) are two of the more beaten-down reopening stocks that could rebound sharply once a vaccine is available, and why patient investors with a relatively high risk tolerance might want to put them on their radar.
Demand for group events isn't going anywhere
The hotel industry was obviously hit hard by the pandemic, but hotel real estate investment trust Ryman Hospitality Properties was impacted at a whole different level. Unlike most hotel operators, Ryman focuses most of its efforts on group business -- think conferences, conventions, holiday events, etc. Those types of gatherings simply aren't happening right now, and realistically won't come back until well into 2021. What's more, the company operates an entertainment division that primarily owns concert venues.
However, recent results have been promising. As the pandemic worsened, Ryman decided to close its properties entirely. Since reopening four of its five Gaylord hotels and temporarily pivoting its focus to leisure travel, total occupancy has been averaging about 19%, with weekend occupancy of more than 30% -- into the breakeven realm. The Ryman Auditorium in Nashville has even started to host socially distanced live concerts. Ryman's overall business still has a way to go before becoming profitable, but the cash burn rate has improved nicely, and Ryman has about 30 months of liquidity to get it through the tough times.
And if you think group event demand is going to be permanently lost, think again. Ryman has successfully rebooked almost 790,000 canceled room nights and has more than 1.5 million net room nights on the books for 2021 at a higher average revenue per room night than the company achieved in the past couple of years.
Think urban offices are doomed? Don't be so sure
There's a growing belief that people aren't going to work in offices anymore in the post-pandemic world, especially in urban areas. To put it mildly, I don't buy it.
To be sure, the Silicon Valley area might see its office market suffer simply because of how expensive and tech-concentrated it is. But for the most part, people want to live in cities and work in offices just as much as they did at the beginning of 2020 before anyone had heard of COVID-19. According to a report from Gensler, just 12% of U.S. workers want to work remotely on a full-time basis. Most people say that they miss socializing with colleagues and that collaborating from a distance is simply not as effective. Many say that it's tough to avoid distractions and that they don't get as much done at home.
Recent leasing activity seems to point in favor of in-person work. Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) recently leased 730,000 square feet of new office space in Manhattan, and Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) plans to add over 900,000 square feet of urban office space to its footprint.
Because of this, I believe Empire State Realty Trust could be a screaming bargain at the current price level. The company owns the iconic Empire State Building and several other office properties in the NYC area. Rent collection remains strong and the recently renovated (and high margin) observatory on top of its flagship property is just starting to ramp up its business. Plus, the company has over a billion dollars in liquidity to take advantage of any opportunities that arise.
These aren't low-risk stocks
While I own both of these stocks in my portfolio (Empire State is actually one of my largest holdings), it's important to point out that investors should expect quite a bit of volatility as the rest of the pandemic plays out. For one thing, while a vaccine certainly looks likely, there's no guarantee that one will be approved in the near future. If and when it is, there's no way of knowing when it will be widely available. Developing a vaccine doesn't solve the problem unless you can get it to everyone who needs it.
These companies are not lottery tickets. They are two financially stable companies with excellent management that just so happen to be in businesses that were severely impacted by the pandemic. I can't say whether you'd be happy you bought these stocks a month or even a year from now -- but a few years down the road, I'm confident that the pre-vaccine valuation of these two REITs will seem like an amazing bargain.