Industrial real estate investment trusts (REITs) own portfolios of industrial buildings, which they lease or sell for profit – profit which is passed on to shareholders in the form of dividends. I’m going to get right to the point: this is a bad sector to be in, both in the short and long term. Manufacturing in the United States has been in a long-term decline for decades, and recent economic uncertainties (such as the various fiscal cliffs) have not helped share prices or profitability in the past year. Industrial companies need to be adding jobs or changing space for big industrial buildings to lease up, and those jobs have not been appearing for the industrial sector like they have for retail. In general, the industrial sector appears to be an unsafe place to invest. For a more granular look, I have chosen two of the big industrial REITs to compare: Duke Realty Corp (NYSE:DRE) and Prologis Inc (NYSE:PLD).
One of Duke Realty Corp (NYSE:DRE)’s major assets is its property diversification. The company operates a combination of industrial, healthcare, and office buildings. Unfortunately, their stated goal of an asset mix of approximately “60% bulk industrial, 25% suburban office and 15% medical office” is too industrial-heavy, given the issues I have outlined above. Digging into the financials, Duke Realty Corp (NYSE:DRE) is carrying a pretty hefty debt load (its debt-to-equity ratio is 1.48, according to YCharts). Duke Realty Corp (NYSE:DRE)’s revenues have been in decline since 2009, and interest makes up almost a quarter of the company’s expenses (reflecting that heavy debt load). The 4% dividend yield is tempting but may not be sustainable based on the negative earnings per share (EPS): -$.04 for the trailing twelve months and -$.51 for calendar year 2011. Funds from operations (FFO) is a metric, commonly used by REITs, which functions similarly to EPS, but does not include gains/losses from real estate sales and ignores depreciation. FFO is popular as an alternative metric due to the belief that the depreciation schedule used to arrive at EPS ignores the continuing value of commercial real estate owned for investment purposes (for more information on this topic, read this article). Duke Realty Corp (NYSE:DRE)’s FFO for 2012 was $1.00 per share, which may indicate a more sustainable platform for the dividend.