This article sheds light on several puzzling empirical observations. We examine the volatility implications of equity Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT) stock returns over the sample period from January 1985 through October 2012. We find a negative "leverage effect" in the pre- and post-Greenspan era, but not during the Greenspan era (circa 1994-2006). We argue that the positive elasticity of variance with respect to the value of equity during the Greenspan era can be explained by a decline in the spread between the yield on commercial mortgages and 10-year Treasuries, which triggered a wealth transfer from REIT equity holders to REIT debt holders. We also argue that the declining commercial-mortgage-10-year-Treasury yield spread during the Greenspan era allowed REITs to take on far more risk than most people realized. We then document that average REIT stock return volatility increased significantly in the 2007-2010 period in the midst of a historic decline in REIT stock prices. The results have significant implications for the good deal of interest and debate in the media over the status of REITs and whether equity REITs have become excessively risky relative to the returns they generate.
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