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September 15, 2020

4 REIT ETFs You Need To Be Looking At In 2020

Disclaimer: The writer of this article may have positions in the securities mentioned in this article. The fact they hold positions in securities has had no impact on the production of this article

By Nelson Smith

September 15, 2020

Real estate is a wonderful asset class that has made countless investors rich over the years. Much like a diversified portfolio of Canadian dividend stocks, it’s an easy no-brainer addition to your portfolio.

If you're looking for broader exposure to the market, you've come to the right spot, because in this article I'm going to be going over some of the best Canadian REIT ETFs for 2020.

Some people take this a step further and create their own real estate empire, consisting of a few rentals in their city. This is not an ideal way to get your real estate exposure.

Having your own rental property is essentially buying yourself a part-time job.

First, you’ve got to rent the place, a process that might involve multiple showings and a bunch of back and forth. Next up is doing all the lease paperwork, checking your tenant’s references, and so on.

Then the property must be maintained, and you’ll have to chase the tenant for their rent. And finally, on top of all that, you’ll have to do up the books and keep a detailed record of all expenses.

A top Canadian REIT ETF is clearly the better investment choice here, and many investors who are looking to learn how to invest in stocks and real estate are flocking to them.

It’s a passive investment made up of shares of Canada’s top real estate investment trusts, and most pay dividends on a monthly basis.

You don’t even have to choose individual REITs to own; buying a Canadian ETF that consists of REITs gives you instant diversification over types of real estate (like retail, office, apartments, and industrial, among others) and location.

The emergence of ETFs here in Canada, especially niche ones that cover specific areas like oil and gas ETFs, banking, bonds or even REITs have made diversification ridiculously easy.

As a result, just one of these ETFs will give you an instant portfolio that spans Canada and even into other nations.

What makes a good REIT ETF?

There are upwards of 10 different Canadian REIT ETFs in Canada. What makes one better than the others?

It comes down to three factors.

Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, you want a REIT ETF with a low management fee.

Fees come right out of your investment returns and minimizing them is an easy way to increase your bottom line.

Next, you’ll want to make sure the REIT ETF is properly diversified.

Some only have exposure to the largest individual REITs, meaning a lot of smaller ones are excluded. These smaller companies are underfollowed and have higher growth potential, two important factors that could lead to better long-term returns.

And finally, liquidity is a factor.

Small ETFs that don’t trade much are annoying to buy. They’re also more likely to get closed, which is a particularly annoying problem for passive investors. It’s far better to stick with the bigger ones.

Let’s take a closer look at four top Canadian REIT ETFs for 2020, each with their own different little twist on the sector.

BMO Equal Weight REIT ETF (TSX:ZRE)

The BMO Equal Weight REIT ETF (TSX:ZRE) owns approximately equal positions in 21 of Canada’s top real estate investment trusts. The portfolio is periodically rebalanced as certain REITs outperform their peers, which leads to them having a bigger position.

This equal weighting perspective has one distinct advantage. It doesn’t favor the largest REITs, securities that have historically underperformed some of their smaller peers.

A prime example during COVID-19 would be RioCan. Being one of the largest REITs in Canada and having a large commercial asset base has caused it to struggle. The equal weighting of this REIT ETF is beneficial as it doesn't favor a large REIT like RioCan.

Let’s face it; when a REIT gets excessively large, it’s hard for it to move the needle much.

Additionally, the largest REITs are often a little overvalued, another factor that leads to poor returns.

Holdings:

wdt_IDCompanyWeight
1Crombie REIT4.44
2SmartCentres REIT4.42
3Artis REIT4.30
4Boardwalk REIT5.63
5WPT Industrial REIT5.22
6Northwest Healthcare Properties REIT5.18
7Granite REIT5.15
8Dream Industrial REIT4.57
9CT Real Estate REIT4.56
10Summit Industrial REIT4.49

This ETF is also fairly large, with close to $510 million in assets, and it trades an average of 30,000 shares per day. That’s plenty of liquidity for the average retail investor.

But this real estate ETF is hardly perfect, and that’s why I’ve given it the lowest spot on our list. Two places where it’s a little lacking is the management fee and the yield offered by the portfolio.

Let’s start with fees. Including HST, the management fee stands at 0.61%. Although that’s a vast improvement over mutual funds and their 1-2% average fees, that’s still more than most investors will want to pay.

The yield isn’t the greatest, either. The current dividend yield based on trailing dividends is 5.44%. This is partly because some of the REITs biggest holdings don’t pay much in yield, and partly because the management fee is so high. Investors who are looking for a high payout will have to choose another Canadian REIT ETF.

In terms of performance of this REIT ETF, you'll see below that it  was actually outperforming in a big way prior to COVID-19, but as a result of the pandemic it has fallen well below the returns of the TSX Index.

5 year dividend adjusted performance of ZRE vs the TSX Index

REIT ETF ZRE vs TSX Index 5 Year Chart Grab Stockrover Here

iShares S&P TSX Capped REIT Index ETF (TSX:XRE)

The iShares S&P TSX Capped REIT Index ETF (TSX:XRE) has been around the longest out of the four profiled today, making its trading debut on the Toronto Stock Exchange back in 2002.

It’s a solid choice that has delivered annual returns of 7.48% over the last 10 years, and this is with the COVID-19 crash factored in. Returns prior to COVID-19 on an annual basis sat in the double digits.

Other advantages offered by this REIT ETF include its large size ($1.03 billion in assets), plenty of liquidity (with some 249,795 shares trading hands each day), and its ample trailing yield. This ETF currently yields 6.27%, which is an excellent payout.

You’ll have to buy individual REITs to do much better than this yield.

Holdings:

wdt_IDCompanyWeight
1SmartCentre REIT4.61
2First Capital REIT4.05
3Northview Apartment REIT3.74
4InterRent REIT15.95
5Canadian Apartment REIT9.72
6Allied Properties REIT9.39
7Riocan REIT7.80
8Granite REIT6.33
9Choice Properties REIT5.39
10H&R REIT5.19

As you can see, this REIT is rather top-heavy. Its top five holdings account for around 50% of its total holdings, with Canadian Apartment Properties (TSX:CAR.UN) making up a pretty hefty chunk.

This means the rest of this ETF’s 19 holdings don’t matter so much.

Like the BMO REIT, this security has a management fee I view to be a little too high, checking in at 0.61%. Note that even though we’re seeing ETF costs slowly decrease, many of these sector ETFs continue to keep their fees stubbornly high.

As you'll see below in terms of performance, this REIT was much the same as ZRE. It was outperforming prior to the COVID-19 market crash, and has now struggled to gain ground.

5 year dividend adjusted performance of XRE vs the TSX Index

Real Estate ETF XRE Vs TSX 5 Year Chart Grab Stockrover Here

CI First Asset Canadian REIT ETF (TSX:RIT)

This REIT ETF is a little different than the rest, putting distance between its competitors in a few interesting ways.

First off, the big negative. The CI First Asset Canadian REIT ETF (TSX:RIT) has the highest management fee of all the Canadian REIT ETFs profiled today. It currently stands at 0.75%. Investors should keep in mind this REIT is actively managed, which is one reason why the management fee is so high.

Its yield also isn’t great, with the current payout at just 5.27%. Prior to the crash in March, this would have been a very reasonable yield. But, a lot of real estate ETFs provide better.

This ETF has been around for a long time, primarily sold as a mutual fund under the CI family. It debuted as a mutual fund in 2004 and converted to an ETF in 2015. It has a healthy market cap of $556.91 million and trades more than 24,000 shares on an average day.

Where this ETF really shines is its long-term returns. Over the last 10 years, this real estate ETF has returned 11.44% to investors, and this is with the March 2020 crash factored in. Prior to that crash, it was providing even better returns to investors.

In fact, as you'll see with the 5 year chart below, this is by far the best performing REIT ETF on this list. It's still underperforming the broader market, but has outperformed every other ETF on this list by double digits. But first, lets look at what's inside.

Holdings:

wdt_IDCompanyWeight
1First Capital Realty4.08
2Riocan REIT4.07
3Tricon Capital Group4.02
4InterRent REIT5.43
5Canadian Apartment Properties REIT5.19
6Dream Industrial REIT4.61
7Allied Properties REIT4.42
8Killam Apartment REIT4.30
9Dream Global REIT4.26
10Morguard NA Residential REIT4.10

This REIT ETF is much more diverse than its peers, holding 36 different securities. It also doesn’t have as much concentration at the top of the portfolio, which helps to justify the high management fee.

5 year dividend adjusted performance of RIT vs the TSX Index

TSX:RIT 5 Year Performance vs TSX Index Grab Stockrover Here

Vanguard FTSE Canadian Capped REIT ETF (TSX:VRE)

Vanguard dominates the passive investing world, and it’s easy to see why.

The company’s products are built to last, and usually have the lowest fees. Vanguard knows fees are what really matter in the ETF world; the company is playing a big part in constantly pushing management fees lower.

The Vanguard FTSE Canadian Capped REIT ETF (TSX:VRE) is no exception.

It has a management fee of just 0.35%, which is easily the lowest among its peers. That alone will put an additional $20 to $35 per year back in your pocket, based on a $10,000 investment. That really adds up over time.

This ETF also gives one of the best yields among its peers, with the current payout at 6.71%.

It’s also the smallest out of all the REIT ETFs profiled today, with total assets of just over $218 million.

Average trading volume is a hair over 13,500 shares daily, which should be enough liquidity for regular investors.

Since its inception in late-2012, the Vanguard Canadian Capped REIT ETF has delivered solid returns.  Prior to COVID-19, as you'll see with our performance chart the ETF was outperforming by a decent margin, and we expect when things get back to normal (which, who knows when that will be) it will continue to do the same.

This REIT’s top holdings are built with a little more yield in mind.

Holdings:

wdt_IDCompanyWeight
1Choice Properties REIT7.25
2H&R REIT6.08
3SmartCentres REIT5.61
4Colliers International5.42
5Chartwell Retirement Residences3.84
6Canadian Apartment Property REIT17.35
7Allied Properties REIT10.79
8Riocan REIT10.10
9FirstService Corp8.61
10Granite REIT8.04

In total, this ETF has just 17 different holdings. Its top holdings are very similar to the iShares Capped REIT ETF, but Vanguard’s product comes with a much smaller management fee.

Additionally, this ETF’s portfolio is a little different than its peers. It holds shares of First Service Corp and Colliers International, two real estate service companies that don’t own properties themselves. That gives it a little unique flavor compared to others on this list.

5 year dividend adjusted performance of VRE vs the TSX Index

Vanguard REIT ETF VRE Vs TSX 5 Year Grab Stockrover Here

The bottom line

If you’re looking for a Canadian REIT ETF, the choice is clear. Vanguard’s entry is best. It wins the REIT ETF category, just like it wins so many others. Its low fees are a huge advantage, something that immediately translates into higher dividends.

And with the security of the largest provider of ETFs behind you, investors can be confident this Vanguard ETF will be around for decades to come.

If you want real estate exposure in your portfolio, you could do much worse.

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Nelson Smith


Nelson is a dividend value investor who insists on buying great dividend-paying companies when they are reasonably priced. He has been investing for more than 15 years and is now primarily focused on helping other investors build up a dependable stream of passive income. When he's not studying the markets, Nelson can be found relaxing with his wife and cat or watching the Toronto Blue Jays.

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