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Equity Office Properties

When it comes to real estate, there's one stock towering above its competition...literally. Equity Office Properties, based out of the windy city, is the nation's largest REIT with interest in over 750 office buildings throughout the country. That's 120 million square feet of office space. To give you an idea of how big that is, it's the equivalent square footage of 2083 football fields.

The company has been headed by Sam Zell, considered by many to be the greatest real estate businessmen ever. His specialty lies in buying distressed properties and turning them into profitable investments.As many of you probably know, REIT's have been good investments over the last three years, especially because Warren Buffett has had his eye on them. But a number of office space REIT's have been hurt by a rising vacancy rate in their properties. As more companies are going out of business, it's meaning that fewer offices are being rented out. But despite this, they have had strong earnings and expects to earn $3.20/share this year.

What I Like About This Stock

  • Not volatile - The company has a beta of 0.3 and has been seen by many to be a "safe haven".
  • Solid dividend provides nice income - For those who see income as one of their major investment objectives, this stock offers a 6.6% dividend yield ($2.00/share). This helps boost the rate of return in an up market and cushions it in a down market.
  • Respectable growth rate - The company has grown their top and bottom lines pretty well. In 1997, they had just over $400 million in sales. Today they have $3 billion in sales.
  • It's cheap - The company is expected to earn $3.20/share this year which puts its earnings at about 9.4x FY2002 earnings.What I Don't Like
  • ROE and ROA aren't spectacular - As with most REIT's, Equity Office has low investment returns. Their ROE is 6.8% and their ROA is 2.4%. Far from spectacular...
  • Net profit margin is decreasing - With more vacancies, the company's net profit margin has fallen from 21.2% to 19.2% in the last couple of years. However, a turnaround in the market might bring this number up again.
  • Overall, I think this is a fairly safe investment with some nice income and moderate growth possibilities. The stock has consistently traded in a range of around 27-33/share and I don't see it breaking out for a while. But I believe that it will reach $33/share within the next 12 months. That would give you a healthy 15.9% one-year return (with dividend factored in).


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