What happened

Shares of data center real estate investment trust (REIT) Equinix (NASDAQ:EQIX) rose 22.4% in 2020, according to data from S&P Global Market Intelligence. The move comes amid the market's realization that data centers have been one of the beneficiaries of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A data center.

Image source: Getty Images.

Simply put, stay-at-home and social distancing measures have boosted the use of video conferencing, digitalization (the Internet of Things), remote working, big data analytics, and so on. Throw in the advent of 5G networking, and it's a recipe for strong growth in the future. In short, there's increased demand for storing and distributing data, and that's good news for data center REITS like Equinix and Digital Realty Trust

So what

The pandemic has accelerated many already strong trends. Not only will that improve growth prospects, but it will also de-risk the REIT's existing investment plans. Indeed, the best way to think of Equinix is not so much as a low-growth, high-dividend yield REIT play, but as a REIT with many years of growth ahead of it.

This conclusion might be disconcerting REIT investors focused on dividends -- Equinix's dividend yield of 1.5% isn't anything to write home about -- , but the potential to increase the dividend is substantial. For example, management forecasts that adjusted diluted funds from operations (AFFO) per share will be $24.38-$24.61 in 2020, but the dividend payout is only $10.64 per share. In other words, the dividend is well covered.

A quick look at Equinix's capital expenditures shows that that 92% of it went to non-recurring or expansionary items over the last year. Whichever way you look at it, Equinix is in growth mode.

Equinix capital expenditures.

Data source: Equinix presentations.

Now what

Looking ahead, Equinix investors will want to see continued revenue growth and also a demonstration of ongoing pricing power -- the keys to growing AFFO and dividends in the future. Given the strong tailwinds behind it, investors in Equinix have every reason to feel positive about 2021.

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.