What happened

The stock market was having a day for the history books on Monday. After Pfizer (NYSE:PFE) released late-stage data for its COVID-19 vaccine candidate that showed better-than-expected effectiveness, the Dow Jones Industrial Average opened at an all-time high. And as of 9:55 a.m. EST, the S&P 500 had risen by about 3% for the day.

Mall and shopping center real estate stocks were some of the biggest movers on the day. Mall giant Simon Property Group (NYSE:SPG) soared by 25% ahead of its third-quarter earnings release, which is due after the market's close today. Outlet REIT Tanger Factory Outlet Centers (NYSE:SKT) was higher by 17% and retail redevelopment REIT Seritage Growth Properties (NYSE:SRG) was an exceptionally strong performer, with shares up by more than 26%.

A family of three standing while carrying shopping bags in a mall.

Image source: Getty Images.

So what

The short explanation is that these real estate investment trusts, or REITs, are likely to be some of the biggest beneficiaries of the economy normalizing after the pandemic.

For one thing, mall REITs like these three are highly dependent on consumers not only being able to get out and spend money, but they depend on consumers feeling comfortable doing so. There's an entire subset of the population that is at high risk of serious COVID-19 complications that is largely still not venturing out and shopping, even though most malls in the United States are open.

Second, a vaccine could mean that life could generally return to normalcy in the United States, which would be a positive catalyst for job growth. Lower unemployment means more consumer spending, which is great for these REITs and the retailers that rent space in them.

Finally, this helps to give some clarity regarding when the wave of COVID-driven bankruptcies in the retail sector could slow down. One very important thing to remember is that retail REITs do well when their tenants do well. And a vaccine could help their tenants' underlying businesses do better.

Just to name one specific example, consider that although virtually all of Tanger Factory Outlet Centers' tenants have reopened for business, the company collected 89% of its billed rent in the third quarter, indicating that at least some of its tenants are struggling to make ends meet. A vaccine could help change that.

Now what

We're a long way from being out of the woods yet. Although Pfizer's vaccine data is certainly a breakthrough development, it's important to remember that it won't be widely available until some point next year. Even so, retail REIT investors have been patiently waiting to truly see some light at the end of the tunnel, and it looks like they may have just received it.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.