You may not have heard of Simon Property Group (NYSE:SPG), but considering the company owns 175 million square feet of mall and outlet retail property around the U.S., there's a good chance you've shopped in one of the retailers it houses. Simon has thrived since the financial crisis. Funds from operations, or FFO, has nearly doubled from the 2010 low, and the quarterly dividend has recovered from its crisis-level low of $0.60 per quarter to over $1.30 today.
Even now that the stock price has recovered and is trading at over 18 times estimated 2014 FFO, there are several reasons to think this stock could still fly higher and deliver big gains to shareholders in the coming years.
1. There is a huge pipeline of new projects opening and under development.
Simon Property Group continues to develop, redevelop, and expand all around the world. The company's second-quarter earnings supplement lists many of its properties and joint ventures currently opening and being redeveloped. The highlights of its list of current projects are two huge ones that just broke ground: a 260,000-square-foot expansion to its Chicago Premium Outlets and a new 130,000-square-foot outlet in Shisui, Japan.
Neither of those projects is a needle-mover by itself; at Simon's size, no single project really can be. But the company notes that there are 32 expansion and redevelopment projects under way in the U.S., Asia, and Mexico, and Simon has over $1.7 billion currently invested in ongoing projects.
This huge list of projects is a display from Simon of its commitment to investing what's necessary to continue to grow. For a real estate company whose product is retail space, new property and redevelopment are the only paths to growth.
2. Rents are rising.
Well, hold that thought. Growth can also come from being able to raise rents at a rate higher than inflation, and Simon has been doing just that.
The company's releasing spread on its malls and premium outlets -- that is, the difference between lease rates on expiring leases and the rates on new leases for the same property -- is showing fantastic post-financial-crisis growth.
The danger in raising rents this quickly is alienating your tenants, but if tenants are unhappy, it's certainly not reflected in Simon's occupancy numbers. In its most recent filings, Simon's occupancy rate stood at 96.5%, which is up from 95.1% in the second quarter of 2013.
Warren Buffet once said, "The single most important decision in evaluating a business is pricing power." Simon Property Group is displaying that it has pricing power in spades; its space is still highly desirable to retailers despite the higher prices.
3. The Washington Prime spinoff should reap benefits.
In May, Simon spun off around 100 of its strip-mall properties into a new public company, Washington Prime Group (NYSE:WPG). The properties Simon chose to transfer to Washington Prime are its lower-growth ones and are generally physically smaller than the properties in the portfolio staying with Simon Property Group.
To return to a familiar metric, the releasing spread for the properties in Washington Prime's portfolio for 2013 was a minuscule 1.5% increase over the previous year.
The Washington Prime spinoff accomplishes two things. First, it allows management to focus on a growth strategy that is owning and managing only premium properties in the United States and around the world.
Second, by ridding itself of its lowest-growth properties and nearly a billion in existing mortgage debt associated with those properties, the spinoff gives the company a leaner balance sheet. A pristine balance sheet allows management to funnel retained earnings to the best high-growth opportunities or take on debt to do so, and it's a critical tool that will help Simon Property flourish.
Foolish final thoughts
Simon Property Group is already a huge company, and the years 2005-2007 notwithstanding, real estate is not the type of investment that doubles overnight. But a growing premium property portfolio, rising rents, and the divestiture of some of its less productive properties could lead Simon Property Group to rising dividends and market-beating returns over the next five to 10 years.
Chris Walczak has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.