Operating Lease as Alternative Financing for REITs: a Viable Strategy or a Sign of Trouble?


Published: 16Apr2021

Authors: E. Devos, E. Devos, H. Li and Desmond Tsang

Publication: The Journal of Real Estate Finance and Economics, Forthcoming


Extant REIT research largely overlooks operating leases as an alternative source of financing. In this study, we hand-collect lease information of 334 unique REITs over the period of 1993 to 2018, and we document that an increasing number of REITs have been including operating leases in their capital structure to finance income-generating investment properties. We examine the determinants of the operating lease decision and find that REITs which adopt operating leases tend to be larger and have more growth opportunities as measured by Tobin’s Q. But they also have higher leverage, report lower funds from operations, and higher risk. We further find that operating lease intensity for REITs is negatively affected by credit ratings, but not by growth opportunities. Lastly, we examine the market effect related to operating lease decision and find that REITs with operating leases are associated with lower shareholder returns. Overall, our findings imply that operating leases are employed as an alternative financing source by REITs that are highly levered and cannot rely much on their internal funding. As a result, the market does not view the use of operating leases in the REIT sector favorably.

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