As the fallout and uncertainty from last week's Brexit vote continues to whipsaw the global equity markets, at least one sector - U.S. real estate investment trusts (REITs) - potentially stands to benefit from the upheaval.
Indeed, certain U.S. equity REITs are sitting pretty from both an investor standpoint and a growth perspective.
On the investment side, U.S. REITs offer investors a safe, stable haven to park their cash and pick up an attractive dividend yield while they wait out the bedlam. After all, equity REITs are currently generating dividend yields of 3.7% and have year-to-date total returns of 11% on average, according to the National Association of Real Estate Investment Trusts.
Certain sectors offer even bigger dividend yields, such as health care REITs with 5.2% yields and lodging REITs with 5.9% yields. This far outpaces U.S. Treasurys.
"With the 10-year Treasury hovering below 1.5%, that resonates well with the REIT dividend yields which average 3.7%," said Richard Anderson, managing director of Americas Research at Mizuho Securities USA Inc. "Any investor with an appetite for yield - and there's a lot of them around the world these days - will look to the REITs as an interesting option from a pure income perspective."
But the Brexit turmoil is creating other advantages for U.S. REITs, too.
Investors have been stampeding into the safety of U.S. Treasurys amid the Brexit pandemonium, pushing interest rates lower. Experts are expecting those yields to remain low for a prolonged period of time. And that's good news for REITs, who rely on low rates to keep their cost of capital down and generate big returns on properties they purchase, develop or own.
The low rates, along with the surging U.S. dollar, could present buying opportunities for REITs to pick up prime real estate - both at home and abroad - on the cheap. In the past, real estate titans, such as Sam Zell, have made a killing by snapping up real estate at bargain basement prices when the markets were in anarchy.
Some of those buying opportunities could be in the U.K. The floundering British pound, which hit a 30-year low against the U.S. dollar on Monday, opens the door for U.S. REITs to enter the U.K. real estate market or, if they're already there, expand their holdings in that region.
Boston Properties (BXP - Get Report) , for example, has been mulling a possible expansion into the U.K. for many years, and some analysts speculate that the Brexit weakness might serve as a cheap entry point.
Of course, acquiring properties in the U.K. during this tumultuous period could be tricky, requiring REITs have considerable street smarts and a little ice in their veins as they assess which properties are worth owning when there's so much uncertainty in the U.K. both economically and politically.
Brookfield Property Partners (BPY - Get Report) , a real estate operating company, for example, took a hit immediately after the Brexit vote, with its shares tumbling about 10%, because some of its most prominent holdings, such as London's Canary Wharf and Center Parcs U.K., are located in the U.K.
"The London office market is particularly worrisome," said Michael Knott, director of U.S. REIT research at Green Street Advisors, a REIT research firm in Newport Beach, Calif.
A handful of U.S. REITs already own properties in the U.K. and Europe. Digital Realty Trust Inc. (DLR - Get Report) , which owns data centers and technology-related real estate, and Prologis (PLD - Get Report) , which owns industrial warehouses, have the biggest exposure, with 16% of their assets being in the U.K. and Europe, according to Knott. Several healthcare REITs, including HCP Inc. (HCP - Get Report) , Welltower Inc. (HCN) , and Ventas Inc. (VTR - Get Report) also own properties in the U.K.
Anderson believes U.S. REITs that already have a presence in the U.K. and know the market would be the best at assessing buying opportunities in that market during the Brexit chaos. "There could be opportunities - but every opportunity comes with an elevated level of risk," he said.
Knott sees health care REITs and net lease REITs being the least affected by the Brexit turmoil as demand for their properties largely continues in good economic times or bad, and therefore they'd be less likely to be impacted should the U.K. sink into a recession.
On the flipside, office REITs, which have big banks as major tenants, face considerable potential risk from Brexit. Paramount Group (PGRE - Get Report) gets 47% of its rent from financial services tenants, while SL Green Realty Corp. (SLG - Get Report) receives 37%, Boston Properties (BXP - Get Report) 27%, Vornado Realty Trust (VNO - Get Report) 22%, and Empire State Realty Trust (ESRT - Get Report) 16%, according to Knott.
Hotel REITs are also vulnerable. The weak British pound and shaky business environment following last week's Brexit vote could translate into a dropoff in business travel to the U.S. from the U.K. and European Union.
Of course, all REITs could take a hit if the Brexit strife in the U.K. morphs into a global recession.
"Contagion is a real risk," said Anderson, "Not just for REITS, but for all."