Yet investors are mostly sticking to equities that invest in the U.S. residential housing market, which is a microcosm of the provincial approach investors take when it comes to investing in stocks. And at a time when investors are flocking to international equity bets overall as a way to find better valuations than in the U.S. market.
With international real estate, investors are forsaking big income bets, giving up higher yields and better returns at a lower price-to-earnings ratio. Last year 18 of the 23 European housing markets boomed, according to the research firm Global Property Guide, and show no signs of slowing. New Zealand, China and Canada were also strong.
“There is a real opportunity here,” said Duncan Rolph, a managing partner at Miracle Mile Advisors in Los Angeles. “International real estate funds are priced less than U.S. [funds]. Yet they pay dividends over 4 percent.”
The Vanguard Global ex-US Real Estate ETF (VNQI) fund is the best example. The fund currently has a 12-month yield of 4.58 percent, according to Morningstar, and has notched a price return of 12.12 percent as of May 19. And the expense ratio is a measly 0.15 percent.
Price to prospective earnings ratios of real estate ETFs
Vanguard Global ex-US Real Estate: 13.45
iShares International Developed Property: 14.35
iShares Europe Developed Real Estate: 12.40
WisdomTree Global ex-US Real Estate: 12.54
WisdomTree Global ex-US Hedged Real Estate: 12.59
Guggenheim China Real Estate: 10.24
Vanguard REIT ETF (U.S.): 34.17
(Source: Morningstar, data through 4/30/2017)
Most of the fund’s $4.2 billion in assets are invested in developed markets in Asia and Europe. Japan, where housing prices in Tokyo rose 9.3 percent last year, is the largest country holding. By contrast, the massive $33.8 billion US-centric Vanguard REIT ETF (VNQ) price is nearly flat. “There’s a lot of room for funds to flow internationally,” Rolph said.
This low-risk Vanguard Global real estate fund is a favorite, said Todd Rosenbluth, senior director of ETF and mutual fund research at CFRA. “You’re getting global diversification in developed markets,” he said. “And many holdings in it are attractively valued.” He doesn’t rely on price-to-earnings metrics for this view, but generally noted that a bottom-up view of stock investing leads CFRA to be positive on broadly-based VNQI.
The nearly identical iShares International Developed Property ETF (WPS) has similar holdings to Vanguard Global ex-US. But assets are only $137 million and the expense ratio is higher at 0.48 percent. “You’re getting similar country exposure at a higher cost,” Rosenbluth said.
He suggested the iShares Europe Developed Real Estate (IFEU) ETF as a better alternative. It yields less at 2.5 percent, but it has had a 13.3 percent price increase this year. Most of the holdings are in the U.K., France and Germany, which provides a contrast to the Asia-centric real estate ETFs, Rosenbluth said. It’s also relatively rare to find a European sector focus in ETFs. “If investors believe there’s a rebound there, this is a good way to play it,” he added.