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Coronavirus has impacted not only the demand for hand sanitizer and facemasks, but also every corner of the market, including real estate. In March, when COVID-19 cases experienced a swift and steep uptick, real estate investment trusts (REITs) corrected sharply and quickly.

Initial REIT underperformance in the time of COVID-19 stemmed from three major causes: rising credit spreads, exposure to the hard-hit retail and hotel space, and general equity risk-off sentiment.

However, while the pandemic caused the real estate-based equity market to contract in March, the space is no stranger to crisis. Since the beginning of the modern REIT era in the early 1990s, the industry has been faced with five major economic events:

  • Russian debt crisis/Long-Term Capital Management crisis of 1998;
  • the technology bubble of 2000;
  • Sept. 11, 2001;
  • the 2008 Global Financial Crisis; and
  • today’s global pandemic.

REITs have learned from these experiences and, this time around, they entered the crisis with the low leverage levels, healthy balance sheets and high-quality portfolios.

While REITs still are generating much lower returns than their pre-coronavirus crisis peaks in February, the market has rebounded 30% since hitting its March low, and there is reason for optimism looking forward.

For investors wondering what’s next for the REIT market, we want to highlight five trends in real estate right now:

1. Supply-Chain Reconfiguration

The pandemic has and will continue to accelerate existing trends toward supply-chain disruption. This theme was prominent within the REIT space before the pandemic took hold globally, thanks to changing consumer habits and the ongoing trade tensions between the United States and China, among other events.

The trade war, in particular, forced global manufacturers to rethink the long-term risks of overexposure to any one region, which sparked a trend toward increased flexibility for tenants. The current crisis has only added fuel to this fire.

2. E-Commerce Acceleration

Containment measures across the world have shuttered brick-and-mortar retailers, prompting consumers to take their business online. This is a healthy dynamic, as we believe that the United States is “over-retailed.” Retail tenant bankruptcies will have a lasting impact on occupancy and rental growth.

Effectively, what we expected to take 10 years will happen in two. As this trend toward online retail continues, the industrials sector may be favorably positioned since demand will shift from physical retail spaces to logistics.

3. Work-From-Home Adoption

Lockdowns and social distancing have moved many non-essential (i.e., non-medical/life-sustaining industry) workers out of office spaces.

As companies continue operations with work-from-home models in place, they may rethink maintaining physical office spaces since rent is a high operating expense.

While it’s doubtful most companies will switch immediately to a work-from-home-only model, they may reconsider their physical spaces and need to make changes that better enable social distancing.

4. IT Infrastructure Opportunities

The shift to working from home has underlined the critical importance of solid, dependable IT infrastructure. Tenants’ intense focus on efficient IT systems will be a long-term impact of the current crisis.

As a lesson learned from the current pandemic, when companies consider risk-management in the future, IT infrastructure will be top of mind.

5. Telecom Carrier Spending Increases

The call for near-term 5G LTE rollout will become louder as reliance on cellular data persists. While this was on our radar pre-pandemic, virtual meetings, medical appointments, entertainment and education will accelerate the demand for cell towers.

No doubt, COVID-19 dynamics will create a “new normal” in data center and cell tower infrastructure that lasts well beyond 2020. Therefore, towers and data centers present long-term opportunities.

This crisis, too, shall pass, but the global pandemic will have long-term effects on the way we live and work. These changes will inevitably impact the real estate market, but each sector of this market could react differently.

This is why investors need to keep these five themes in mind as they adjust their real estate portfolios to take advantage of cyclical and secular long-term opportunities as recovery begins.

Svitlana Gubriy is manager of the Aberdeen Global Premier Properties Fund at Aberdeen Standard Investments.