10/26/2012 | by
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ISI Group took first place honors in Institutional Investor magazine's annual awards honoring the top REIT analysts. This is the third consecutive year that the team led by Stephen Sakwa, senior managing director with ISI, has been ranked number one.

Sakwa joined ISI in 2009 and manages a team of five researchers. The group follows 34 REITs. Prior to joining ISI, he was a managing director at Merrill Lynch. Institutional Investor noted that one investment fund manager cited Sakwa's team with being "on top of all the issues, all the time."

Michael Bilerman, Citigroup's managing director and head of real estate, and his team finished second for the third consecutive year.

"Our achievements could not have been achieved without the hard work and dedication of the entire Citi REIT team," said Bilerman, whose team has ratings on 75 stocks. "We are independent, not afraid to ask the tough questions and get our hands dirty."

Citigroup was followed by Barclays, led by Ross Smotrich, which tracks 45 stocks.
Institutional Investor's "All-America Research Team" list is part of the magazine's 41st annual ranking of the leading analysts in the financial sector. Members of the All-America Research Team were selected by sending questionnaires covering eight categories and 65 investment sectors to the directors of research and the chief investment officers of major money management firms.

Runners-up in the awards' REIT category for best research team included Jeffrey Spector and his team from Bank of America Merrill Lynch and J.P. Morgan's team led by Michael Mueller and Anthony Paolone.

In terms of the outlook for REIT investment, Bilerman said he and his team believe REITs should be part of investors' portfolios over the long term for a number of reasons. Bilerman cited REITs' cash flows, dividend growth, diversification and exposure to several areas of the economy as benefits of REIT investment. He also said he has a bullish opinion on the REIT industry in the near term.

"REITs should benefit over the next couple of years from positive internal growth, opportunity for continued external growth through acquisitions and development, growing dividends, improved balance sheets, wide access to low-cost capital in order to fund accretive growth and attractive valuation relative to bonds," he said.