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While the S&P 500 is up 7% year to date, there are several Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) that have performed better than the index. REITs have been popular the past year, as more investors have bought shares for the income they provide. Although many retail landlords continue to struggle with vacant space, the leading publicly traded retail REITS are well positioned to benefit from improving underlying operating trends. Nevertheless, challenges remain within the industry. The table below shows seven REITs that have outperformed the S&P 500 year to date. These REITs are from different sectors, with the retail REITs leading the outperformance in early 2012.

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Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust (PEI) is a self-administered REIT involved in acquiring, managing and holding retail real estate interests. The company's real estate holdings consist of shopping malls, strip and power centers, and industrial properties in the Mid-Atlantic and Southeastern United States. Over the past year, PEI has traded in a range of $6.50 to $17.34 and is now at $13.84, 110% above that low. Year to date, PEI stock price is up 31.5%, with a dividend yield of 4.37%.

PEI is one of three companies in the Retail REITs industry with the lowest Enterprise Value (EV) to Sales ratios. EV/Sales gives investors an idea of how much it costs to buy the company's sales and the lower the ratio, the more undervalued the company is believed to be. Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust is the lowest in retail space with EV/Sales of 6.38, while Mack-Cali Realty Corporation (CLI) has the lowest EV/Sales in the office sector with 6.01.

PEI had Q3 operating FFO of $0.51, exceeding the $0.36 estimate and the $0.36 Capital IQ consensus forecast, helped by well-controlled costs. Occupancy at Q3-end was 91.9%, up from 91.5%. Sales per square foot rose and are slightly below peak levels. PEI expects re-leasing spreads to firm up and has re-leased some of the space being vacated by the GAP with higher rent-paying tenants.

Up 20.8% year to date, Kite Realty Group Trust (KRG) is one of the notable REIT movers. Kite Realty Group Trust is a full-service, vertically integrated real estate company focused primarily on the development, construction, acquisition, ownership and operation of neighborhood and community shopping centers. The company owns properties in Indiana, Florida, Texas, Washington, Oregon, New Jersey, Illinois and Georgia.

KRG reports earnings on February 8, 2012. The Capital IQ consensus FFO estimates for '11 and '12 remain unchanged at $0.43 and $0.46, respectively. The updated consensus projects revenues to rise fractionally in '11, likely on a prolonged contraction in its construction business, followed by a stronger 6.8% gain in '12, which can be attributed to likely gains in occupancy and rents as well as the reduced drag of the construction business. Occupancy at Q3-end rose to 93.1% from 92.2% last year, while re-leasing spreads rose 10.8%.

CBL and Associates Properties Inc (CBL) closed the trading session at $18.45. In the past year, the stock has hit a 52-week low of $10.41 and 52-week high of $19.35. CBL stock has been showing support around $17.40, and resistance in the $18.66 range. Technical indicators for the stock are bullish, and S&P gives CBL a very positive 5 STARS (out of 5) strong buy rating. Year to date, the CBL stock price is up 18%.

Sovran Self Storage, Inc. (SSS), a self-storage REIT, will issue financial results for the quarter ended December 31, 2011, after the market closes on Wednesday, February 22, 2012. Analysts expect SSS to report Q4 per-share FFO of $0.70, vs. $0.62, on February 22. The analysts see positive revenue growth on better rents and fewer vacancies at its self-storage facilities. For 2012, forecasts show improved operating margins, due to less promotional discounting as the economy improves. In addition, the ongoing industry consolidation will present new acquisition opportunities.

Mack-Cali Realty Corporation is a fully integrated, self-administered and self-managed REIT. The company owns and operates a real estate portfolio consisting of office and office/flex properties located primarily in the Northeast. Year to date, CLI is up 9.67% and offers a high yield dividend of 6.15%.

Ahead of Q4 results, CLI has an FFO estimate of $0.68 and 2012 FFO forecast of $2.75. CLI has a target price of $32, on updated 11.6 times the 2012 FFO outlook. Analysts expect a gradual 2012 recovery in CLI's suburban office markets, particularly in the Jersey City, New Jersey, market. CLI is also expected to break ground in 2012 on a high-rise apartment complex on the Jersey City waterfront. Recently yielding 6.15%, CLI would be a buy for total return potential.

Source: Best Performing REITs in 2012