This REIT Profits From Greater Immigration Enforcement

Whether you agree or disagree with President Trump's hard-line immigration stance, his border crackdown is a fact of life that's unfolding with greater urgency every day.

We've found an income play on this trend, and you may be surprised to learn that it's a real estate investment trust (REIT). 

Easterly Government Properties (DEA)  stands to benefit from the new administration's increased immigration activities because U.S. government agencies lease most of the space in Easterly's more than 40 properties. With 97% of its income backed by Uncle Sam, it's a safe bet that this REIT's tenants will stick around.

That's especially true now that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency and the FBI are Easterly's main tenants, accounting for more than a quarter of the REIT's income.

Because of these tenants' security concerns, their space must be designed to strict specifications, so they can't just move on a whim. And these days, of course, ICE is quite busy indeed.

With a market cap of $967.8 million and based in Washington, DC, Easterly Government Properties' main point of contact with tenants is the General Services Administration. All of the REIT's properties are currently leased for seven-year terms.

The REIT's management has been turning in solid funds from operations (FFO) growth through a series of property acquisitions. Most of those properties were already occupied by a law enforcement agency, while the rest were owned by some other government agency.

Given its track record of successful acquisitions and the government's tendency to lease rather than buy space, it's a safe bet management can find more profitable deals. The current dividend yield is a robust 4.69%.

REITs in general make sense for investors who seek a steady stream of income.

Conventional wisdom says that higher interest rates are generally bad for REITs, but over the past 12 months, REITs as a whole have held their own. The iShares U.S. Real Estate ETF (IYR) and the Vanguard REIT ETF (VNQ) are up 7.5% and 5.8%, respectively. Rather than obsessing about the Federal Reserve's next move, you're better off focusing on the quality of a prospective REIT investment.

REITs invest in real estate, either by owning properties or the mortgages on them. What makes REITs special is that they are required by law to pay out at least 90% of their cash flow as dividends. As long as that golden ratio is maintained, the investment trust itself is generally exempt from federal income taxes, freeing up more cash to pay you, which is why REITs usually offer higher yields than stocks.

REITs also are all-weather investments. Although the occasional bust from a financial crisis does happen, REITs generally hold their value well in a down market because the rents their tenants pay are contractual obligations. Rents tend to rise with inflation, helping to offset its corrosive impact on purchasing power.

That makes REITs the ultimate total return investment. You can collect higher-than-average yields for years, even as the value of the units rise along with the value of the REIT's property portfolio. That's an important point now, as inflation shows signs of increasing.

While REITs do offer special advantages, there are winners and losers just like any other business. When you're considering REITs, look for those that are consistently growing their funds from operations, which is how a REIT reports earnings, instead of the more familiar earnings per share. Because FFO doesn't include gains or losses on property sales, nor depreciation, the metric gives you an idea of how a REIT is faring on a real cash basis.

You also want REITs that are in stable markets, where rents aren't falling and vacancy rates aren't high. Those REITs can create FFO growth by steadily raising their rents without scaring off tenants. Plus, they're more recession-resistant because tenants know that they have a good deal.

The REIT's management team is also an important consideration. Is there a steady deal flow as management reinvests available cash, or is the team resting on its laurels? When management has demonstrated a stream of profitable deals, your money is in good hands.

Easterly Government Properties is one REIT that fits most of this key criteria.

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John Persinos is an analyst with Investing Daily. At the time of publication, he owned none of the stocks mentioned.

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