As the ongoing decline of sales of U.S. homes and the weak housing market in general indicate, Americans are becoming less interested and less able to purchase homes. With a rise in living expenses, flat wages, a tight loan market and lingering unemployment, gathering the cash for a hefty down payment on a home is increasingly difficult. The result is that more people are renting. The percentage of Americans who own their home sunk from a peak of 69.2 percent in 2004 to a 13-year low of 65.9 percent in the second quarter of 2011. Morgan Stanley (MS) went so far as to call 2012, “The Year of the Landlord,” as declining vacancy rates of rental units allow owners to charge a premium for rent.
Toward the end of 2011 groundbreaking for new homes was up 9.3 percent, prompting hopes that the U.S. housing market was beginning to recover. Upon further investigation, however, the gains were almost entirely the result of an increase in multifamily and unit housing intended for renters. While those with cash on hand might want to considering being a landlord in the coming year, there are more indirect ways to benefit from the boom in renters. A handful of stocks have been performing well through the decline of the housing market, from storage companies benefiting from people downsizing from homes to the builders specializing in this type of construction.
Storage companies have proved to be not only resilient but successful through this period of American adjustment. In 2011, stock prices surge and real-estate investment trusts specializing in self-storage, for all the Americans moving to rentals, posted a total return of 65.4 percent. Though other REITs have exhibited surprising stability, with an average gain of 8 percent, this category exceeded competitors. Of the four self-storage tracked in the Dow Jones, Extra Space Storage Inc (EXR) posted the largest gains with returns of 43 percent, while Public Storage (PSA), the largest operator of such facilities saw 36 percent returns.
There’s also the option of investing in an ETF that attacks a renters market from all angles. The Vanguard REIT Index ETF (VNQ) is close its 52-week high and some are arguing that with several signs of a slow economy still in motion it could remain that way. The REITs have an added benefit of a less obvious correlation with equities, which could be favorable with the recent volatility. The top holdings of the Vanguard are Simon Property Group Inc. (SPG), Public Storage (PSA) and Equity Residential (EQR) all of which could stand to gain from the multiple family home market.
For those looking for a direct investment into the developers of rental home properties, Forest City Enterprises (FCE.A) could be an appealing bet. Forest City Enterprisises has both a commercial group and a segment devored to residential rental properties for all income brackets. They have their hands on both upscale and middle-market buildings as well as what they call “adaptive re-use development,” which is related to creating mixed-use properties in urban areas. The number of urban renters continues to grow as Forest City would appear to be well positioned for this.
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