Omega's 7.7% Yield: A Terrible Way To Invest

| About: Omega Healthcare (OHI)


Yesterday's GOP healthcare bill does nothing to change the party’s plans to rollback Medicaid-expansion, and does nothing to improve the dire reimbursement situation facing some Omega operators, and ultimately Omega.

Despite Omega’s strong financials now, the company faces significant challenges ahead as many of its struggling operators cope with less federal support than previously anticipated under the Affordable Care Act.

Yield-chasers and many uninformed contrarians are investing in Omega for all the wrong reasons, but so too are risk-averse investors avoiding Omega for the wrong reasons.

This article provides an update on Omega, describes critical errors many investors make when considering Omega, and concludes with our views on how investors should think about this big-dividend healthcare REIT.

There is a reason why Omega Healthcare Investors' (OHI) yield (7.7%) and short-interest (21.2%) are so high. And yesterday's release of the new GOP healthcare bill did nothing to improve the situation (i.e., the party still plans to largely roll-back the Medicaid Expansion of the Affordable Care Act, and this will create new challenges for many of Omega's operators, and ultimately Omega). This article reviews several bad reasons to invest in Omega (e.g., yield-chasing, backward-looking financials), explains two big reasons why the stock's performance has been lackluster over the last year (e.g., efforts to reduce the federal deficit, and a negative market narrative about REITs), and concludes with our views on the right way to think about this high-yield RIET.

Before getting into the details, this cartoon is worth considering:
We like this cartoon because it reminds us of how lots of investors view the REIT sector right now. Specifically, the group is significantly underperforming the S&P 500 over the last year (see the following chart for details) and we see new articles regularly about how to "catch a falling knife" and/or invest in a "dead cat bounce."

But to be clear, unless you're the guy whose name is featured on the following piece of metal, you cannot time the market.

Overview of Omega
Omega is the largest Skilled Nursing Facilities (NYSE:SNF) focused REIT with a portfolio of 972 operating facilities spread out across the US and internationally as shown in the following map.

And it is well-diversified across operators, as shown in the following chart.
Further, Omega has an attractive history of growth, and a low dividend payout ratio relative to its adjusted funds from operations (AFFO) as shown in the following graphics.

And importantly, Omega has attractive industry demographics on its side (i.e., an aging population with growing healthcare needs).
Further still, the company has no upcoming lease expirations and no senior note maturities until 2023.
Also, important, from a valuation standpoint, Omega is inexpensive relative to its own history. For example, it currently trades at only 9.7 times the midpoint of its 2017 AFFO guidance. This is very low compared to its own history (it has traded above 12 and 13 times historically). Further, it trades very inexpensively relative to other healthcare REITs. For example, here is one of our charts comparing OHI to peers from earlier this year.

Overall, Omega has grown its business and achieved an attractive track record of success. Yet many investors continue to invest in Omega for all the wrong reasons.

The Wrong Reasons to Invest In Omega
Regardless of Omega's business, many investors continue to invest for all of the wrong reasons. For example, much of the information presented in the previous section of this article is backward-looking. Past performance is not a guarantee of future success, yet many investors continue to extrapolate past performance into the future. However, this is the wrong way to invest because the market is not backward-looking, it is forward-looking (we'll have more to say about Omega's forward-looking prospects later).

Another inappropriate reason many investors are attracted to Omega is because they are yield-chasers. Investors often flock to REITs (and end up overweighting REITs within their portfolios) simply because they are chasing after the high yields in the sector. And considering Omega's yield is higher than many, many investors are specifically attracted to Omega without understanding much more than it pays a big yield (this is not a good way to invest; investors should understand the company they are investing in, not just chase high yields).

Still another inappropriate reason why many investors are attracted to REITs (and to Omega) is because they are blind contrarians, and they figure anything that has under-performed the market lately must surely be "due for a rebound." This is a terrible way to invest. For example, a lot of lazy contrarian analysts thought the "big banks" looked cheap on a price-to-book basis in the early innings of the financial crisis (early 2008), and then ended up losing their jobs when those banks fell much, much further because the book values were more a figment of an accountant's imagination than reality. It's okay to be a contrarian investor, but it's important to understand why something has under-performed instead of just haphazardly chasing after things that have recently under-performed.

Two big reasons why Omega has underperformed the S&P 500
The first big reason why Omega is underperforming the S&P 500 over the last year (as shown in our earlier table) is because of current Congressional efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Specifically, plans put forth by the controlling party (currently the GOP), include an effort to rollback the Medicaid expansion plans of the ACA. And the latest bill put forth on Thursday (How the Senate Health Bill Compares to House Bill, Obamacare) shows this effort remains intact. And the reason rolling-back Medicaid expansion is so bad for Omega is because many of its property operators (52.6%) rely on Medicaid for revenue, as shown in the following table.

(source: Omega Supplemental)

And if Omega's operators receive less Medicaid reimbursement than they previous expected under the ACA, it could negatively impact their ability to pay Omega.

For some perspective, many of these operators are currently facing challenging financial situations already. For example, Genesis Healthcare (GEN), one of Omega's larger operators (7% of revenue, as shown in our earlier graphic) said this in their latest annual report:

Reductions in Medicaid reimbursement rates or changes in the rules governing the Medicaid program could have a material, adverse effect on our revenues, financial condition and results of operations…. Medicaid is our largest source of revenue, accounting for 55% of our consolidated revenue during 2016 and 53% in 2015. (source)

For added perspective, here is a look at Genesis Healthcare's negative earnings in recent years.

Any cuts to Genesis revenues will make operations even more difficult, and this may reduce their ability to pay Omega. Further, Genesis is not alone in its challenging situation; other Omega operators face similar challenges, and this is a growing issue for Omega.

And if you're not exactly sure how a struggling operator can negatively impact a healthcare REIT, you can look to HCP (HCP) and Quality Care Partners (QCP) over the last couple years. HCP is a healthcare REIT that was having such difficulty with its largest operator, ManorCare, that its price performed terribly, and it was ultimately forced to roll off ManorCare (and almost all of its SNF properties) into a separate new REIT altogether (QCP). Stockholders were not happy with returns, and this is a recent example of how a troubled operator can negatively impact a healthcare REIT.

So to summarize, the bad news for Omega is that its operators will likely lose revenues if Medicaid reimbursement is capped (Congressional legislation under consideration is expected to change federal funding to states from the current matching program to a capped per capita program). And these operators budgets are already stretched pretty thin (as described in our Genesis example, previously).

However, the good news is: 1) there will likely be a slow phase in of the Medicaid changes, 2) a growing population and improving demographics will likely offset some of the challenges, 3) Omega was slowly increasing private pay anyway as shown in our earlier "payor mix chart" (i.e., not dependent on government reimbursement), and 4) Omega is diversified across states (states have handled the ACA differently) and this will minimize the impact of any one state if/when the laws are changed. Net net, we believe any new healthcare legislation won't have a draconian impact, and a lot of the fears are already baked into Omega's stock price.

For added perspective, here is a look at how much healthcare is as a portion of the overall federal budget (28%).


REIT Interest Rate Fears
The second big reason why Omega has under-performed the S&P 500 over the last year has to do with investor fear about how rising interest rates may negatively impact REITs. We've seen this phenomenon play out as the fed has continued to raise rates and as the pro-growth Trump rally took off after last November's election. For perspective, here is a chart of how REITs have performed versus the S&P 500.

The basic fear is that because REITs rely on borrowing to fund growth (they generally have to pay out 90% of income as dividends to avoid corporate taxes), and because interest rates are expected to keep rising, REITs could be in trouble (i.e., rising rates could keep returns lower). However, we believe the market's fears about rising rates may already be baked into prices, and in reality interest rates may not rise very dramatically at all.

As we mentioned earlier, the federal government is working to reduce the deficit. And as you may have noticed in our earlier pie chart, interest payments (on the US government's outstanding debt) is actually a significant portion of federal spending (7%). And if the government truly wants to get the debt and deficit under control then there is incentive to keep interest rates low for longer because raising rates would dramatically increase the amount of interest payments by the government (to places like China, a country that holds a lot of US treasury bonds). In fact, it wasn't that long ago that former fed chair Ben Bernanke is reported by Reuters to have said he "does not expect the federal funds rate ... to rise back to its long-term average of around 4 percent in [his] lifetime." And if rates do stay low for longer, then this makes growth less expensive for REITS.

The Wrong Reason to Avoid Omega
Another common mistake investors make when considering Omega is to view it as a stand-alone investment instead of as a part of a diversified investment portfolio. This is an absolutely terrible way to think about investing. It's been proven over and over again throughout history both empirically (e.g., William Sharpe, Eugene Fama) and via common sense (don't put all your eggs in one basket) that owning a diversified portfolio is a far better way to invest, yet many investors still don't appreciate the true power of diversification. A simple way to think about diversification is that it allows you to keep your returns high and your risks lower. And the wrong way to think about investing in Omega is as a stand-alone investment instead of within the constructs of your own diversified investment portfolio.

Regardless, a common bad argument investors make is "why invest in Omega when there are other healthcare REITS that offer decent yields without the risky SNF exposure?" The answer, of course, has to do with risk versus reward. One of the basic concepts in investing is the risk-reward trade-off; the higher the risk, the higher reward. Yet by owning a diversified portfolio, you can keep your risks far lower than owning any one individual stock, while simultaneously keeping your expected return just as high. Unfortunately, many investors view risk on a case by case basis (instead of as a portfolio), and they end up owning a lower yielding portfolio of undiversified stocks.


There are lots of terrible ways to consider investing in Omega (e.g., yield-chasing, knife-catching, and focusing on backward-looking data). On the other hand, considering an investment's future prospects, and how it fits within the constructs of your overall diversified investment portfolio (instead of simply as a stand-alone investment) is the right way. We own shares of Omega Healthcare within our Blue Harbinger Income Equity portfolio, and it's one of only three REITs we currently own (like Omega, the other two are outperforming the REIT sector this year, and we believe all three have more upside and lots of big dividend payments ahead). Critically important, all three of our members-only investment portfolios (available within The Value & Income Forum) are diversified across sectors and styles in order to keep risks lower and returns (and income) higher.

Disclosure: I am/we are long OHI.

I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it. I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.

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