RPT-Fitch: Shades of 2006-2007 emerging for U.S. Equity REITs of 2013; but a lot has changed

Wed Oct 9, 2013 9:09am EDT

Oct 9 (Reuters) - (The following statement was released by the rating agency)

Recent bond yield spreads are signaling familiar territory, though U.S. equity REITs have a decidedly different plan of action during this credit cycle, according to Fitch Ratings in a new report. Bond yield spreads between equity REITs and corporate industrials have tightened to levels last seen during 2006-2007, the tail end of the last REIT credit cycle. However, a closer look by Fitch shows that equity REIT behavior has changed markedly over the last six years.

For one, 'REITs are showing less tolerance for development risk, a likely byproduct of the economic crisis,' said Director Stephen Boyd. 'While most REITs have sufficient access to capital to fund development, their hesitation to grow pipelines aggressively has more to do with a desire to preserve financial flexibility by limiting their exposure to non-income producing assets.' REITs are also showing less enthusiasm for share repurchases during this cycle, a more discerning approach that Fitch views as a credit positive.

Another notable change that Fitch has observed is a conscious move away from the "bigger is better" diversification strategy, utilized by some REITs during the last credit boom. 'The REITs of today are diversifying in a more prudent and thoughtful manner that plays more to their strengths,' said Boyd.

So what are the primary concerns that should be foremost on investors' minds during this REIT credit cycle? They are a combination of risks both familiar and new, according to Fitch. In addition to the recurring threat of higher interest rates, REITs of 2013 are also contending with changes in tenant space usage requirements and leasing patterns stemming from technological developments that, for the most part, they did not encounter six years ago. That said, the generally more prudent approach to portfolio and liability management has positioned equity REITs well for the foreseeable future.

'Contemplating the REIT Credit Cycle' is available at 'www.fitchratings.com' or by clicking on the below link.

Link to Fitch Ratings' Report: Contemplating the REIT Credit Cycle

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