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Feature Story: MOBs proving ‘resilient’ once again

But senior housing is struggling. That and more from 2020 REITweek event.

By Murray W. Wolf and John B. Mugford

REITweek went virtual this year due to the pandemic. The June 2 opening general session featured Ventas Chairman and CEO Debra A. Cafaro (top center), along with Steven Wechsler of NAREIT (lower left), Jay Brown of Crown Castle International Corp. and others. (Photo courtesy of NAREIT)

The annual three-day REITweek conference is the single most important event of the year for securities analysts and others who follow real estate investment trusts. The analysts, along with institutional investors and representatives from sponsoring firms, gather to hear executives from more than 120 REITs make half-hour presentations regarding recent performance and give guidance regarding what to expect in the months ahead. The agenda is also typically packed with luncheons and networking events, as well as hundreds of one-on-one meetings. Last year’s event drew more than 1,800 attendees.

But this year’s edition of REITweek, which took place June 2-4, was analogous to the “new normal” of life in COVID-19 America: decidedly different than in the past, clouded by financial uncertainty, reliant on a unfamiliar video conferencing platform and not without its share of technological glitches. Normally held at the New York Hilton Midtown, REITweek 2020 became an all-virtual event.

But despite the occasional technical hiccup, the National Association of Real Estate Investment Trusts (NAREIT), which puts on REITweek, did a commendable job of swiftly pivoting to a virtual event. It orchestrated the live-streamed presentations of more than 120 REITs and several hundred of their executives – with more than 3,700 online attendees, according to the Washington, D.C.-based trade association.

Several of the largest healthcare REITs participated, including Welltower Inc., Healthpeak Properties Inc., Ventas Inc., Physicians Realty Trust, Sabra Health Care REIT Inc. and Global Medical REIT Inc. Also participating was Easterly Government Properties, which invests in U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) outpatient facilities, as well as non-healthcare-related federal properties.

The June 2 opening general session, titled “Navigating the Pandemic and the Road to Recovery,” featured Ventas (NYSE: VTR) Chairman and CEO Debra A. Cafaro, as well as top executives from student housing, self-storage, industrial and communications infrastructure REITs. The session was moderated by A. William Stein, CEO of data center REIT Digital Realty trust Inc. (NYSE: (DLR) and the chair of NAREIT’s 2020 executive board.

“This year’s conference is taking place at a historically difficult time,” Mr. Stein began. “Our world and our country have been dealt a heavy blow by the COVD-19 pandemic…” As a result of this “unprecedented public health crisis,” he continued, “Much of our economy, including important parts of the commercial real estate sector, has been shut down for nearly three months to prevent further spread of the virus.

“As our economy begins to responsibly reopen, we are taking careful steps to protect our employees, tenants and communities. But as we grapple with the effect of COVID-19 on society, we also experiencing additional stress,” Mr. Stein continued, as a result of the “terrible events” that have recently taken place in the form of the death of George Floyd and the subsequent violence in cities across the nation.

“We understand there is a role for real estate and the industry’s leaders to play in helping to improve the communities we serve and rely upon today and into the future,” he said.

“The story that is being shared throughout this week, is the story of an industry managing through the pandemic, positioning itself for the reopening and supporting the communities in which we do business as best as we can all along the way.”

‘We are all prisoners of the virus’

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