While apartment and office-space rentals have been the center of attention from a big summer for real estate investment trusts, health care REITs have also continued to experience steady gains. Ventas (NYSE:VTR) has emerged as one of the heavy hitters in the sector, turning in impressive earnings and enriching its shareholders with a 4.1% dividend yield. With a market capitalization of just more than $4 billion, the company finances, owns, and leases health care-related and senior housing facilities in 42 states.

For the Kentucky-based REIT's second quarter ending June 30, 2006, Ventas reported funds from operations (FFO) of $59.5 million. These earnings represented a 30% increase from its year-ago second quarter. The company subsequently revised its full-year FFO guidance to $2.25 to $2.27 per share, up from previous guidance of $2.23 to $2.25 per share. The rise in earnings is primarily attributable to increased rent; Ventas saw its rental income leap from $72.3 million to $99.1 million year over year.

The REIT has seen its stock price escalate 24.8% over the past twelve months. The climb has had less to do with speculation than with a series of quarters in which the company has delivered stellar earnings growth to its shareholders. The success has been punctuated by quarterly year-over-year revenue growth of 33.8%, and a return on equity of 19.76%. Ventas chairman, president, and CEO Debra A. Cafaro stated, "We remain one of the top-performing REITs with our eleven consecutive quarters of double digit normalized FFO per share growth and continued execution of our strategic diversification plan."

At a price/FFO ratio of 16.55, the company is reasonably priced with respect to competitors Health Care Property Investors (NYSE:HCP) and Healthcare Realty Trust (NYSE:HR), which carry price/FFO ratios of 15.33 and 16.92, respectively. Economic conditions are favorable for the industry in general. Robert M. Mains, an analyst for Ryan Beck & Co., recently retained an "Outperform" rating for Ventas, nothing that state Medicaid rates paid to nursing homes are up 2% to 3%, with most rate increases beginning July 1, and that Medicare payments are set to rise on Oct.1, by 2.7% to 3.2% for nursing homes.

Ventas management has maintained a proactive stance in terms of earnings growth, recently announcing a $649 million deal to acquire 67 health-care and senior-housing properties in 16 states. This move should help to sustain future earnings growth at a level at which Ventas shareholders have grown accustomed. Fools might want to look at this health-care REIT as a less volatile alternative to apartment and office-space REITs, since it should prove less reliant on a thriving U.S. economy.

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Fool contributor Billy Fisher does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned.