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Can the West Coast Drive Growth at Essex Property (ESS)?

We recently updated our research report on Essex Property Trust Inc. ESS.

Late in April, this residential real estate investment trust (“REIT”) came up with first-quarter 2016 core funds from operations (FFO) of $2.68 per share, ahead of the Zacks Consensus Estimate of $2.64. Core FFO per share also increased 17.0% from $2.29 in the year-ago quarter. Results were driven by growth in same-property net operating income.

Moreover, total revenue of $314.2 million in the quarter beat the Zacks Consensus Estimate of $313 million and increased 11.1% year over year. The outperformance reflects solid rental and other property revenues.

With a strong property base and solid management team, we believe Essex Property can efficiently leverage attractive market fundamentals. In the West Coast, job growth continues to propel demand for new units. Amid manageable deliveries of new housing in the market, this demand is boosting rental rates. Specifically, in the first quarter, Seattle and Southern California came up with superior performances.

However, supply deliveries in Northern California remain a concern. Excess supply usually curtails a landlord’s power to command a rent hike and results in a moderation in occupancy levels. In addition, lack of diversification of assets in terms of geography makes the company’s operating results susceptible to any fluctuation in local markets. Also, any rise in interest rate will add to its woes.

Moreover, in the past seven days following the earnings release, Essex Property witnessed both positive and negative estimate revisions. The Zacks Consensus Estimate for 2016 has just climbed 2 cents to $11.00 per share while that for 2017 edged up just a cent to $11.90. The stock presently has a Zacks Rank #3 (Hold).

However, investors interested in the REIT sector can consider stocks like EdR EDR, Equity LifeStyle Properties, Inc. ELS and Monogram Residential Trust, Inc. MORE. Each of these stocks carries a Zacks Rank #2 (Buy).

Note: FFO, a widely used metric to gauge the performance of REITs, is obtained after adding depreciation and amortization and other non-cash expenses to net income.

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