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Better Buy: STAG Industrial vs. Prologis

Jun 24, 2020 by Tyler Crowe

E-commerce is one of those trends that is impacting just about every industry out there, even real estate. The need for more robust transportation, logistics, and delivery hubs has put a premium on industrial real estate. Two real estate investment trusts (REITS) that are prominent players in this unique industry are Prologis (NYSE: PLD) and STAG Industrial (NYSE: STAG).

For investors, the differences between these two REITs may be subtle, but those subtle differences have led to very different results. Let's take a look at why industrial real estate has been such an attractive market and which one of these two REITs is the better buy today.

Attacking a red-hot real estate market

Industrial real estate is slowly becoming one of the hottest real estate investments out there. According to CBRE's (NYSE: CBRE) cap rate survey, industrial real estate cap rates have been on the decline for most of this decade. The average cap rate for stabilized industrial assets now stands at 6.13%. Lower cap rates means that investors are paying higher and higher premiums to acquire property.

It isn't too surprising that industrial real estate -- logistics, warehouses, and distribution centers especially -- are a hot commodity. There are two primary drivers as to why this is happening:

  1. The rise in e-commerce is putting a premium on speedy delivery, so retailers of all walks need to have more robust logistics networks to satisfy customers.
  2. Over the past two decades, brick-and-mortar retailers have been reducing their inventory-to-sales ratios. There are lots of reasons why this is happening, such as lower inventory meaning smaller store footprints in high-rent areas and fewer inventory write-downs. For warehouse owners, though, lower inventory levels require stores to rely more on those same supply networks to keep the shelves stocked.

At first glance, industrial real estate wouldn't have that many differentiating factors, but there are some distinct differences in the types of properties in which these two companies invest.

Prologis' focus is on what could be called the premium end of the industrial real estate spectrum. These are assets that are located close to metropolitan areas and tend to serve as logistics hubs for overnight and same-day deliveries.

Prologis highlights the difference in its investor presentation using aggregate rents for the various property types. What it calls a last touch facility -- those in urban areas that can be used for same-day delivery -- can carry annual rent rates as high as $22 per square foot per year compared to a multi-market distribution center -- located at major highway junctions to serve many metro areas simultaneously -- that will generate about $4.55 per square foot per year.

Not only do these high-demand locations tend to have low vacancy rates, but management is also able to increase rents at higher than average rates. In its most recent quarterly report, management noted that net effective rent changes -- the increase in rental rates for a property with a prior lease of more than 12 months -- are 29% over the past four quarters. That is incredible pricing power that has led to Prologis growing its funds from operations (FFO) per share by 41% over the past five years.

STAG, on the other hand, tends to focus on redevelopment opportunities outside major metro areas. The company has a strong track record of taking vacant or underutilized assets and stabilizing them with long-term leases or making modest capital improvements to improve their appeal that it either then continues to own or package into a portfolio of facilities for sale.

Creating portfolios of facilities has been an incredibly lucrative way for STAG to generate returns. By aggregating individual properties into portfolio sales, it has been able to dispose of properties at significantly lower cap rates. This stabilize, package, and sell tactic has led to similar rates of funds from operations growth as Prologis over the past five years.

The difference

Both Prologis and STAG are similar in more than just the market they attack. If you look at their financials, they are also in good shape. While Prologis sports better numbers, both companies appear to have healthy balance sheets that should allow them to both handle any short-term issues and grow their respective businesses.

Company Debt to Capital Debt to EBITDA
Prologis 32.7% 3.6
STAG Industrial 42.6% 4.2

Data source: Y-charts.

So on paper, these two companies have produced similar results and neither truly stands out with a stronger balance sheet. The biggest difference from an investment perspective is how the two companies have used share issuances to fund their development. Over the past five years, STAG Industrial's shares outstanding has grown 126% compared to Prologis' share count increase of 36%.

An increasing share count isn't always a bad thing. Using equity to fund a lucrative acquisition where the rate of return is high enough is certainly justification for issuing shares. Also, STAG has been growing its funds from operations per share, so it's able to produce decent growth and returns on that capital. That said, issuing shares does dilute existing shareholders' stake in the company. Also, rising share counts means that companies have to pay out more to meet the same per-share dividend obligation.

Based on STAGs liberal use of equity to fund growth, it should come as no surprise that it has only been able to grow its dividend payout by 4.3% over that same five-year period compared to Prologis' 45% dividend growth. It also helps to explain why Prologis stock trades at a premium to STAGs. As of this writing, Prologis' stock has a dividend yield of 2.4% compared to STAG's 4.81% yield.

The bottom line

When you stack these two companies against each other, it would appear that Prologis is a better REIT to buy right now. The company has been able to produce similar results while maintaining a slightly better balance sheet and not having to tap the equity market for additional funds. As a result, Prologis has been able to pay a faster-growing dividend and superior returns.

That doesn't mean that STAG Industrial is a bad investment, though. The company pays a monthly dividend and is an attractive option for those looking for passive income from their investment. Depending on your investment goals, either one -- or both -- could be a good fit for your portfolio.

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Tyler Crowe owns shares of Stag Industrial. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Stag Industrial. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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