Early success in the initial vaccine roll-out has brought “new life” to many struggling senior living and skilled nursing-focused real estate investment trusts. New cases of COVID-19 are “nearly eradicated” in long-term care facilities, and the “big three” senior housing-focused REITS have led the rebound, according to an analysis by Hoya Capital Real Estate, published Friday on SeekingAlpha.
Analysis authors pointed to improving fundamentals at Welltower, Healthpeak Properties and Ventas, noting that Welltower earlier this month reported that cases have plunged 99% since the peak and almost all communities are again accepting new residents. All three REITs, however, recently have begun shifting their portfolios away from senior housing and toward the medical office and lab space sectors.
Although risks remain, long-term fundamentals within senior living and skilled nursing continue to be more compelling than other troubled property sectors that trade at similar valuations, they added. Strong rent collection and ample access to capital allowed healthcare REITs to recognize a “glancing blow” as it relates to dividend cuts and suspensions in 2020, unlike other high-yield sectors including hotels, malls and shopping centers that have been ravaged by dividend cuts. Fourth-quarter earnings reports underscored the COVID-driven bifurcation across different sub-sectors, but subsequent updates from senior housing REITs, such as New Senior Investment Group, have been encouraging.
The “public-pay” skilled nursing sector also has been a direct beneficiary of substantial government relief programs amid the pandemic. The combination of a half-dozen relief measures has amounted to an aggregate total of approximately $540 million according to Sabra Health Care REIT, and that has helped to relieve some of the short-term financial pressures on the previously troubled SNF operator tenants.
“While unquestionably devastating, the pandemic did not compromise the sector’s favorable demographic trends,” Hoya Capital Real Estate advisers concluded.