Great value investments usually aren't found solely in metrics, like price-to-earnings ratios. Truly great values actually arise when the market misunderstands something, or believes something is true when it simply isn't.
The broadly depicted "death" of the American shopping mall, as a result of e-tailing, may not be as dire as you'd think. This misunderstanding is creating value in some REIT investments like General Growth Properties (NYSE:GGP), Simon Property Group (NYSE:SPG), and Rouse Properties (UNKNOWN:RSE.DL); here's how.
Believe it -- the American Shopping Mall is thriving!
A recent survey by Green Street Advisors showed that mall occupancy is at 93.3%, which is near an all-time high. At the same time, most people view shopping malls in the same light as newspapers and other dying industries.
Unique buying experiences among retailers, and the cultural status that malls have as a "meeting place," are largely being credited with this mall resurgence. Whatever the reason for it, you should consider capitalizing on the fact that popular opinion has not caught up with reality.
Mall REITS, a side-by-side comparison
A great way to capitalize on this opportunity is with shopping mall REITs (real estate investment trust), which are essentially real estate portfolios that own shopping malls.
Here's a snapshot of three quality REITs you may want to consider.
The true juggernaut of the mall REITs is Simon Property Group, which is an S&P 100 company with a market cap near 50 billion. The company currently owns or has an interest in more than 325 retail real estate properties in North America and Asia, as well as overseas holdings in Europe, particularly in France. Simon owns some of the largest malls in the U.S.
What sets Simon apart is the number of properties it owns and their profitability. Simon has grown earnings 17% annually for the past five years, and it boast a dividend yield over 3%, which has been increased four times in the past year.
General Growth Properties has had a few rough years, but it appears to be turning the corner to profitability as well. Unlike Simon, which has been very profitable the past few years, General Growth is coming out of some tough times. That said, this last quarter was a profitable one, and analysts expect earnings to quadruple in the coming quarter. With a dividend yield of 2.7%, and improved occupancy, this purveyor of 144 shopping malls could be on the upswing.
If Simon is the juggernaut, and General Growth is the turnaround, think of Rouse Properties as the dark horse. This REIT is much less proven and offers the lowest dividend of just 2.34%, but with only 30 properties and a smaller market cap, it could possibly expand as vacancies decline. If that happens, the smaller amount of shares outstanding could lead to a rapid increase in share price. Again, with a market cap at least 20 times smaller than those of General Growth and Simon, this is the highest-risk play, but the dividend has nearly doubled in a year, so it might be a fun speculative play if you buy in small quantities.
A REIT strategy is the best play on this mall misunderstanding
Investors will only reap the rewards of this opportunity by capitalizing on the fact that malls are full of retailers; for this reason alone I recommend a real-estate view and a REIT investment strategy. I wouldn't recommend trying to pick "mall retail" stocks, like Aeropostale, because doing so would mean risking a loss even as malls thrive. You want to capitalize on the occupancy of mall real estate; you don't want to try to guess which T-shirts teenagers will want to wear this spring.
Further, because of their structure, REIT's are forced to pay out 90% of their profits to their owners, and that's where the opportunity lies. If today's "mall-REIT" prices are discounting some hidden strength, then profits, along with dividends and share prices, may be due to rise.
Foolish conclusion: capitalize on confusion
True value investments come from misunderstandings, not from metrics. Right now, there's a disconnect in how shopping malls are viewed, and how they're actually performing. That doesn't mean you should go out and buy up these REITs today, but if nothing else, they're worth a look.