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REITs In 2020's Hardest-Hit Sectors Bounce Back As Economy Roars To Life

The Galleria in Houston, owned by Simon Property Group.

After a year of existential crisis, the portions of commercial real estate hit hardest have begun writing their comeback stories.

A potent mix of the coronavirus vaccine's accelerating rollout and the $1.9 trillion stimulus package signed into law in mid-March sent every economic indicator skyward, from a massive boost in official job numbers to a record in services industry activity, according to Institute for Supply Management data reported by Reuters.

The March explosion capped off a positive month for real estate investment trusts focused on the most embattled CRE sectors, The Wall Street Journal reports. REITs gained 9% in value over the first quarter, compared to 6% for the S&P 500, according to data from Green Street Advisors reported by the WSJ. Hotel-focused REITs gained 18% in Q1, and shopping mall REITs gained an eye-popping 32% over that period.

Despite a continued rosy outlook for the logistics industry, industrial-focused REITs only gained 2.9% in Q1, which could be due to investors selling from positions of strength to raise funds for buying low elsewhere, Evercore ISI head of real estate research Steve Sakwa told the WSJ.

Tempering the enthusiasm is the fact that nearly all of hotel and retail REIT gains for the quarter were realized before mid-March; since that point, REITs have trailed the S&P 500, Green Street reports. But the outlooks for companies operating such properties improved over that same time frame, with AMC Entertainment stock rising 7% in value after the Easter holiday weekend produced the biggest box office totals since before the pandemic began, reports.

In a similar vein, air travel over the weekend hit levels not seen since before the pandemic after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released guidance saying that fully vaccinated people are safe to travel within the country. The Transportation Security Administration reported an 800% increase in air travel compared to Easter weekend in 2020, based almost entirely on leisure travel.