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Insider Q&A With CEO of a Dividend Powerhouse

Stocks in this article: O

Q: You have been at Realty Income since 1987 so you have seen a few cycles of recovery. What is different about the recovery today?

A: There is a phrase that has been used to describe some of the changes and trends that have emerged since the end of the "Great Recession." It is the "new normal." This refers to the observations or beliefs that: the economy is likely to grow at a slower rate; personal income growth is likely to be more muted in the future; that businesses, consumers and governments will need to work their way out of debt; that Baby Boomers will move toward retirement and spend less; and that this combination of factors would have a significant impact on the retail industry. I think that the end result could be more moderate retail spending growth and a somewhat less attractive retail environment. This is why we have taken the time to analyze our existing real estate portfolio and are in the process of strategically selling properties to tenants in industries that will not be a focus for us going forward. It is also why we are widening our investment net a bit to invest in properties that are critical to the operations of tenants outside of retail. Our goal is to move up the credit curve a bit and position our real estate portfolio for this "new normal" investment environment.

Q: I read a blog this week proclaiming that "even cavemen learned to innovate or die." How has innovation impacted the Realty Income brand?

A:I'm a strong believer in remaining nimble and flexible in order to navigate a dynamic economic environment. At the same time, I think it's imperative that a company maintain its focus on why it's in business in the first place. So within these boundaries, at Realty Income, we've always looked three, five and ten years ahead to determine where we'd like to be in the future, while also working within the current economic and marketing landscape to capitalize on opportunities that arise. This approach has allowed us to make needed changes in our investment based on changes in our markets, has helped us hone our acquisition strategy as competition increased in recent years, and has allowed us to successfully navigate varying economic cycles throughout the past 43 years.

Q: Realty Income has a trademark brand of being called "The Monthly Dividend Company®". What does that mean to a retiree (a "retired schoolteacher") today?

A: Our muse is "Ida Mae" from Dubuque, Iowa, a retired schoolteacher. She is the motivation for the decisions that we make, as a management team, with respect to new investments, our operations and the monthly dividend. Our company was formed back in 1969 to provide monthly dividends to its owners. When the company started, our founders felt that as long as they were receiving rent from their tenants every month, it would probably be convenient for their investors to receive dividends every month. So the focus on monthly dividends has been in place for many years. Our shareholders regularly email and send us letters commenting how thankful they are to receive either a check in the mail or see their dividends show up in their account each month. For them dividends are a necessity, not a luxury.

Realty Income closed at $39.29 per share and the 52-week high was $39.82 per share. The market cap is 5.25 billion and the current dividend yield is 4.5%.

Disclosure: At the time of publication, Brad Thomas held no positions in securities mentioned in this article.

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