Real estate stocks plunge as coronavirus epidemic spreads

Dow Jones closed down over 2,000 points, or nearly 8%

(Credit: iStock)
(Credit: iStock)

Real estate stocks tanked Monday, as the stock market’s 11-year bull run teetered on the brink of collapse amid coronavirus fears.

The New York Stock Exchange halted temporarily when the S&P 500 dropped by 7 percent early in the day. But once trading resumed, prices did not pick up and the indices neared bear-market territory: the S&P closed 7.6 percent lower. The Dow Jones Industrial Average ended the day down 7.8 percent, a drop of more than 2,000 points and the worst day of trading since 2008.

The toll the virus has taken on financial markets — as investors fear the illness will trigger a global slowdown — has been mirrored among public real estate investment trusts, stocks that typically were viewed as defensive investments.

The FTSE Nareit All REITs index, which tracks all REITs listed on the NYSE, the American Stock Exchange or the NASDAQ National Market List, declined about 7.7 percent Monday.

Companies more resistant to the virus, like storage and data center firms, are doing better than others that are more susceptible to see their bottom lines hit hard by the illness, like the hotel and retail sectors, said Omotayo Okusanya, a REIT analyst at Mizuho Securities USA.

If the virus ends up having a longer-term impact than originally thought, Okusanya said he would expect to see investors turn more to real estate firms that have longer-term leases, like health care or triple-net properties. Industrial REITs, which have recently seen valuations climb and are susceptible to hits to the global supply chain, may take a hit, he added.

Hotels have been particularly at risk from business loss because of people cancelling bookings and events. Pebblebrook Hotel Trust, whose stock plummeted almost 15.7 percent, withdrew its full-year and first-quarter guidance on Monday because of uncertainty stemming from the coronavirus. Hyatt Hotels Corporation withdrew its 2020 outlook last week.

“The hotels, you’ve kind of seen [the impact] in real time how their earnings outlooks are changing because they’re most exposed,” Okusanya said.

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The mass selloff, as investors pull out of the stock market and CDs, could lead investors to turn more to private real estate, said Khashy Eyn, CEO of boutique brokerage Platinum Properties.

“The fact that interest rates are coming down to an all-time low…I think you’re going to see more money flowing into income-producing assets,” he said.

Cases of the novel coronavirus grew to over 110,000 globally. The respiratory illness, which originated in China in December, has so far killed more than 3,800 around the world and roiled financial markets. In the United States, the number of new cases grew to 213.

Many businesses have halted non-essential travel and supply chains have also been hit hard.

Northern Italy quarantined 16 million people, and the country’s prime minister Monday evening extended the lockdown to the entire country. Israel on Monday also instituted quarantines on new arrivals to the country. In the real estate world, residential brokerage Triplemint said it asked one of its brokers not to see clients, after the agent came into contact with someone who later tested positive for COVID-19.

Meanwhile, there have been complaints that testing for the virus has not been as extensive as it should be, which has triggered concerns about the long-term impact of the virus on the financial world.

“It makes us somewhat worried things will probably get worse before they get better,” Okusanya said. “And I guess against that backdrop you really start worrying about damage to the U.S. economy.”

Write to Mary Diduch at