Apparently the old saying is true; March really does go out like a lamb. At least, as far as dividends are concerned. The last full week of the month saw only a precious few dividend raises, and from lesser-known companies at that.
This isn't to say they were insignificant hikes. One of our two chosen raisers for this edition cranked its dividend a full 50% higher. It might not have been the busiest week for distribution boosts, but in its quiet way it was certainly active.
Silver Bay Realty Trust (NYSE:SBY)
Although this specialty real estate investment trust hasn't been a stellar performer, it's generous with its dividend policy. The company has declared an upcoming quarterly payout of $0.09 per share, 50% higher than its predecessor.
Silver Bay is an equity REIT that concentrates on the rental of single-family homes. It's an interesting niche, however a costly and not particularly lucrative one; since going public in late 2012, the company has yet to post a bottom-line profit. Much of this has to do with high and rising costs; in fiscal 2014 these accelerated by 82%, far outpacing revenue growth of 57%.
The company recently managed to rein in one of its big expenses by ditching the services of an external management entity. This cost it nearly $10 million in fiscal 2013 (out of a total of $74 million in total expenses). It has since "internalized" these services, which should save it at least some cash.
On the revenue side, earlier this year the REIT bought a portfolio of nearly 2,400 residences, located chiefly in the Atlanta, Charlotte, Tampa, and Orlando metropolitan areas from privately held The American Home.
The price tag was $252 million, while the average existing rent for the properties (90% of which are leased) comes out to $960 per month. This should add something in the neighborhood of $28 million to Silver Bay's top line (2014 revenue was $76 million).
These recent developments are encouraging, yet I don't think they're enough to make the stock compelling. Even with in-house management and the savings it will entail, Silver Bay's expenses are high and a threat to bottom line -- and, by extension, to the company's enhanced dividend, which goes live on April 17 to shareholders of record as of April 6.
Elsewhere in the real estate segment is UDR, a multi-family dwelling specialist with a long history of paying quarterly dividends. Its upcoming one will be nearly $0.28 per share, or 7% higher than the previous payout. The company wasn't shy to point out that this will be its 170th in a row.
The multi-family business (as opposed to the single-family model favored by Silver Bay) is a good one to be in right now. Apartment vacancy rates in the U.S. are staying stubbornly low (4.1% in Q1 of this year), meaning higher demand and, of course, prices.
For 2014, UDR's average occupancy rate was just under 97%, and its $805 million in rental income was 8% higher on a year-over-year basis. Funds from operations advanced by 9% to $412 million.
Over the years, UDR's done a good job increasing both of those line items. Whether it will continue to do so depends on that demand. I think it'll remain strong; America has a thriving economy that provides plenty of rent money. Meanwhile new builds take time to come onstream, and home prices continue to rise into prohibitive levels.
That, combined with the fact that UDR has a long history of returning money to its shareholders, makes me believe its dividend won't be in any trouble anytime soon.
UDR's next payout will be dispensed on April 30 to shareholders of record as of April 16.
Eric Volkman has no position in any stocks mentioned. Nor does The Motley Fool. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not 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.