Working Paper

The Role of Public REITs in Financialization and Industry Restructuring

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Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) are considered “passive” investors and are exempt from corporate tax. But in reality, they play a very active role in reshaping whole industries, like healthcare.

Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) are important but little studied financial actors that control over $3.5 trillion in gross assets and over 500,000 properties in the U.S. Yet they have been largely ignored because tax rules define them as ‘passive investors.’ The evidence in this report shows that they are actually financial actors that aggressively buy up property assets and manage them to extract wealth at taxpayers’ expense. This study identifies the powerful impact that REITs, as owners of the real estate that houses productive enterprises, have had on operating companies and on the US economy more generally. It draws on case study evidence from markets where REITs have a major presence – nursing homes, hospitals, and hotels. The tax treatment of REITs has facilitated a growing and worrying influence on health care markets in particular at taxpayer expense.