While the market's topsy-turvy conditions this summer have led some investors to feel that picking stocks is analogous to, say, playing bingo, there is one REIT that just might have their winning number. However, the run that Essex Property Trust
The company recently announced that funds from operations (FFO) had increased to $37.2 million, or $1.45 per diluted share, for the quarter ended June 30, 2006, compared to $27.5 million, or $1.07 per diluted share, for the quarter ended June 30, 2005. Its FFO excluding non-recurring items increased 10.2% or $2.7 million for the quarter ended June 30, 2006, compared to the same quarter in 2005. These numbers led Essex to increase its FFO expectations for fiscal year 2006 to a range of $4.90-$5 per diluted share, up from its initial projection of $4.65-$4.85 per diluted share. The REIT also bumped up its estimated EPS range to $2.15-$2.30 from its previous forecast of $1.63-$1.83 per diluted share. Its price/FFO ratio of 26 and dividend yield of 2.80% are right in line with its peers.
What is striking about this REIT is its rock-solid consistency. The stock has pretty much been on a tear for the majority of the past decade. Much of this can be attributed to a prolific management team that has been in place since the stock's IPO in 1994 and a soundly positioned portfolio of properties.
The company acquires, develops, redevelops, and manages multi-family apartment communities located in the constrained markets of the San Francisco Bay area, Southern California, Portland, and the Seattle metro area. The average market price per square foot for renters has increased by more than 20% in San Francisco since 2005, and the other markets that the company is engaged in have seen healthy increases as well. Essex has a remarkable total vacancy rate of only 3.5%. As part of an interview with Essex management, Mike Schall, the company's current COO (who previously served as its CFO from 1993 to 2005), told The Motley Fool that "we view our portfolio as being very well-positioned." He also added, "We still see rental affordability [versus home ownership] as being very much in our favor."
The company's stock price is up 42% from a year ago. During the dot-com bust in 2001, apartment rents on the West Coast dropped and continued to decline until they bottomed out last year; meanwhile, the price to own rose to astronomical levels. However, Essex has never been a company of pure speculation, and as a result the REIT saw its stock price steadily increase by 70% from the beginning of 2001 to the end of 2005.
This ascent was driven again by sound management and consistent earnings. Keith Guericke, Essex's CEO since 1988, attributes much of management's success to the fact that "we have common ground with respect to strategy and execution." From the company's outset and through the dot-com era, Guericke noted, "We have had the same people here executing on strategy for the last 12 years. We have remained true to our strategy." From a prospective outlook, Guericke likes what he sees: "We are in a market where demand is greater than supply, as is clearly being seen to be the case up and down the West Coast. When demand heats up like it has, it is difficult to meet that supply."
These conditions are obviously very favorable to the company's future growth. Given the state of the rental market, as I touched on in my take on AvalonBay
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Fool contributor Billy Fisher does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned.