The morphing of equity REITs from a niche to a widely accepted and favored asset class has diminished the likelihood of outsized performance going forward, writes Morningstar's Samuel Lee. For decades, REIT yields averaged in the area of 7%, but a "regime shift" about 10 years ago has settled them down closer to 4%.
Further, another benefit of REITs - their lack of correlation with the broader market - has disappeared, says Lee, with their average market beta of 0.5 moving to more than one in the early 2000s, and staying there ever since.
"Anyone who buys REITs on historical risk/return characteristics without considering the fundamental drivers of return and potential changes to market structure is being reckless. A deeper look strongly suggests that REITs' diversification powers are down and so are their expected returns."
Lee has two suggestions for those looking for an inflation hedge: Cash - the Fed typically raises short-term rates inline with increases in inflation - and conventional equities.