BALTIMORE (Stockpickr) -- Performance has been hard to come by in 2014. Since the calendar flipped to January, the S&P 500 has managed to deliver measly gains of 1.7%. That's nothing to write home about, especially considering the fact that U.S. markets were in rally mode for essentially all of 2013.
Worse, underperformance has been much easier to find: Nearly half of the 30 Dow Jones Industrial Average components are down year-to-date, and another four are up less than 1%.
But there's one corner of the market that's been delivering huge outperformance this year: real estate investment trusts, better known as REITs. Since January, REITs as a group have rallied more than 15%.
That has nothing to do with REITs' exposure to real estate. Instead, it's all about the dividends.
Everyone seems to think that the recent performance shift away from tech names is a "flight to quality. It's not. If it were, the Dow would be doing a lot better this year. Instead, we've been seeing a flight to yield that's why other high-yield but relatively "low quality" investments like emerging market bonds and leveraged utilities have been rallying hard too.
And with the big indices still in corrective mode, buying REITs is still one of the best ways to take advantage of the trend. That's why we're taking a closer look at the technical setups in five big REIT charts today...
For the unfamiliar, technical analysis is a way for investors to quantify qualitative factors, such as investor psychology, based on a stock's price action and trends. Once the domain of cloistered trading teams on Wall Street, technicals can help top traders make consistently profitable trades and can aid fundamental investors in better planning their stock execution.
Without further ado, let's take a look at five technical setups worth trading now.
Pebblebrook Hotel Trust
First up is Pebblebrook Hotel Trust (PEB), the $2.2 billion hotel owner with 14 hotels under its umbrella. The firm started off the year rallying hard, climbing more than 14% from the start of January to early March. Since then, shares have been slugging sideways. But the sideways moves are laying the framework for a second rally leg in PEB this May. Here's how to trade it:
Pebblebrook is currently forming an ascending triangle pattern, a bullish setup that's formed by a horizontal resistance level above shares at $35, and uptrending support to the downside. Basically, as PEB bounces in between those two technical price levels, it's getting squeezed closer to a breakout above that $35 price ceiling. When that breakout happens, we've got a buy signal.
Momentum adds some confidence to the staying power in PEB's eventual breakout -- 14-day RSI has been making higher lows since early February, well before the triangle pattern started forming in Pebblebrook's price. That said, it's crucial to wait for this stock to catch a bid above $35 before putting cash in the trade.
Empire State Realty Trust
We're seeing a similar setup in shares of Empire State Realty Trust (ESRT), the $1.5 billion commercial landlord that counts Manhattan's Empire State Building among its 7.7 million leasable square feet of office space. ESRT is a relative newcomer to the public markets, trading for the first time back in October.
But just like PEB, Empire State is forming an ascending triangle setup -- in this case, with the resistance level to watch at $15.50. In fact, that $15.50 level has acted like a ceiling for shares five times now since last December; each of those times, shares have gotten swatted lower. That means that a breakout above $15.50 is a materially significant buy trigger.
Brandywine Realty Trust
You don't have to be an expert technical trader to figure out what's going on in shares of Brandywine Realty Trust (BDN) -- this chart pattern is about as simple as it gets. Brandywine has been bouncing higher in a well-defined uptrending channel since last summer, giving traders a high-probability range to buy the dips.
More specifically, the ideal buying opportunity has come up for BDN bulls every time this stock has bounced off of trendline support along the bottom of the channel. Waiting for a meaningful bounce off of support is crucial for two big reasons: It's the spot where shares have the furthest to move up before they hit resistance, and it's also the spot where the risk is the least (because shares have the least room to move lower before you know you're wrong).
Remember, all trend lines do eventually break, but by actually waiting for the bounce to happen first, you're ensuring BDN can actually still catch a bid along that line before you put your money on shares. At current levels, BDN pays out a whopping 4% dividend yield.
National Health Investors
After performing pretty poorly in the last year, $2 billion healthcare property owner National Health Investors (NHI) has gone from laggard to leader in 2014. Since the start of the year, NHI has moved more than 11% higher, stomping the S&P 500's performance by comparison. And now, NHI looks well positioned for another leg up...
NHI is forming a "rounding bottom" pattern, a basic classic setup that looks exactly like it sounds: it's identified by a curved support level below shares and a horizontal resistance level to the top side. That rounded support line indicates a gradual shift in control from sellers to buyers -- and resistance at $63 is the price level to watch from here.
Why all the significance at $63? It all comes down to buyers and sellers. Price patterns are a good quick way to identify what's going on in the price action, but they're not the reason a stock is tradable. Instead, the "why" comes down to basic supply and demand for NHI's stock.
The $63 resistance level is a price where there has been an excess of supply of shares; in other words, it's a spot where sellers have previously been more eager to step in and take gains than buyers have been to buy. That's what makes a breakout above $63 so significant -- the move means that buyers are finally strong enough to absorb all of the excess supply above that price level.
Relative strength adds some important backup for a buy signal in DRH. That performance indicator has been in an uptrend since back in August, a signal that DiamondRock is continually outperforming the S&P in good times and in bad ones. As long as the broad market remains in "correction" mode (and yes, it still is at this point), relative strength is the single most important indicator you can have in your trading toolbox.
Sweetening the breakout above $12.50, this hotel REIT currently pays out a 3.33% dividend yield.
To see this week's trades in action, check out the Technical Setups for the Week portfolio on Stockpickr.
-- Written by Jonas Elmerraji in Baltimore.