Real estate, as represented by the National Association of Real Estate Investment Trusts Index, has been the best-performing asset class over the past 20 years, from 1996 through 2015.

This is surprising to many investors who still live in a 60/40 stocks and bonds world. Real estate beat out stocks, bonds, diversified portfolios, commodities and cash to be the top-performing asset class.

Although publicly traded real estate exhibited higher returns, it also is characterized by higher volatility. This higher volatility, which is a proxy for risk, must be considered in investment decision-making.

The Sharpe Ratio is perhaps a better indicator of returns because it takes into account the volatility or standard deviation of returns. Therefore, investors should also seek to invest in assets that have the highest Sharpe Ratio.

A higher Sharpe Ratio indicates a higher return per each unit of risk. Fortunately, the other investable universe of real estate, private real estate, delivers exactly this.

Private core real estate is much less volatile, and its correlations are considerably lower to equities and every other asset class.

The chart below shows the risk and return profiles of various asset classes over the 20 years from 1993 to 2013.

Core real estate, as represented by the National Council of Real Estate Investment Fiduciaries Property Index, tends to have similar volatility to corporate and government bonds with a higher return over the long term. The reasons vary, but core real estate uniquely possesses both stock and bond characteristics.

A stockholder gains from rising stock prices just as a real estate equity investor gains from rising property values. Absent a default, a bondholder receives a contractual income stream.

20-Year Return and Risk Profile Across Major Asset Classes

Figure 2: 20-Year Return and Risk Profile Across Major Asset Classes
Figure 2: 20-Year Return and Risk Profile Across Major Asset Classes

Source: Thomson Reuters Datastream; www.treasury.gov

Data from the third quarter of 1993 to the second quarter of 2013. The indices used for each asset class are: core real estate, NCREIF Property Index, listed REITs, FTSE NAREIT Equity REITs Index; government bonds, Bank of America Merrill Lynch Treasury Master; corporate bonds Baa-rated, Barclays US Aggregate Corporate Intermediate; large- capitalization stocks, Russell 1000 index; small-cap stocks, Russell 2000 Index; commodities, S&P GSCI Commodity Index. The risk-free rate is the 10-year U.S. Treasury note yield.

Let's look at the effect of adding private real estate to a traditional investor portfolio. Consider a Portfolio A consisting of bonds (40%) stocks (50%) and T-bills (10%).

Over the 20 years ended in 2014, this portfolio would have earned annual returns averaging 8.23%, with a standard deviation of 9.86% for a Sharpe Ratio of 0.61, as shown in the table below.

By investing 10% of the portfolio in real estate, while reducing exposure to stocks and bonds, this portfolio could have achieved higher risk-adjusted returns as shown in Portfolio B and a higher Sharpe Ratio of 0.68.

20-Year Return and Risk Profile in a Diversified Portfolio

Figure 3: 20-Year Return and Risk Profile in a Diversified Portfolio
Figure 3: 20-Year Return and Risk Profile in a Diversified Portfolio

Data from 1995-2014. The indices used for each asset class are: S&P 500; Barclay's U.S. Aggregate (Bonds); Bank of America/Merrill Lynch 3-month U.S. Treasury Bill; and NCREIF NPI (CRE).

Furthermore, as shown in Portfolio C, investing 20% of the portfolio in real estate, while further reducing exposure to stocks and bonds, achieves higher risk-adjusted returns (8.54%) and a higher Sharpe Ratio of 0.75.

Over various real estate and economic cycles, core real estate's Sharpe Ratio has been higher than both stocks and bonds.

This shouldn't be surprising, given its equity and bond-like features explained earlier. This makes core real estate perhaps the most valuable asset class.

David Lynn is founder and chief executive of Everest Investment Advisors, an institutional real estate manager focusing on medical core real estate properties across the U.S. He has been published, interviewed and written about in numerous national and international real estate, finance and business media publications and programs. Lynn's theoretical work on financial distress developed a new analytical framework for analyzing macroeconomic distress. He has written five critically acclaimed books on real estate investing. Lynn is well-known in the industry for his proprietary, numbers-driven approach, forecasts and analytical techniques.

About Everest Medical Core Properties

Everest Medical Properties is an institutional real estate manager focusing on medical core real estate properties across the United States. Its mission is to provide stable income and competitive total returns to institutional and individual investors by acquiring high-quality medical office properties. The team has over 100 years of combined commercial real estate and finance experience with major companies. For more information on Everest Medical Core Properties, visit www.everestmcp.com or contact us at info@everestmcp.com.

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