Real estate investment trusts (REITs) have enjoyed a resurgence since the dark days of the global credit crisis. With investors looking far and wide for income-generating investments, it is no surprise that REITs have surged in this low interest rate environment. Year-to-date, the Vanguard REIT ETF (VNQ) has jumped 14.4 percent while the iShares Dow Jones U.S. Real Estate Index Fund (IYR) has climbed 15.6 percent.

Those are just two examples of thriving REIT ETFs, but S&P Capital IQ sees upside opportunities with retail REIT names.

"We believe continued growth in consumer spending will help drive positive retailer sentiment, which should result in greater store openings and expansions offsetting retailer bankruptcies and store closings - i.e., greater absorption," the firm said in a research note.

S&P notes that average second-quarter occupancy rose to 93.4 percent from 92.4 percent in the second quarter of 2011. In the note, S&P places a five-star rating on CBL & Associates (CBL) and four-star ratings on Federal Realty (FRT), Glimcher Realty Trust (GRT), Macerich (MAC) and Simon Property Group (SPG).

Kimco (KIM), Taubman Centers (TCO) and Weingarten Realty (WRI) each earned three-star ratings from S&P.

Rather than taking on the cost burden of owning each of those name individually, investors can use the iShares FTSE NAREIT Retail Capped Index Fund (RTL) to gain exposure to these names. Four of the aforementioned REITs Simon Property, Kimco, Macerich and Weingarten are found among RTL's top-10 holdings.

RTL, which garners an Overweight rating from S&P Capital IQ, devotes nearly 22 percent of its weight to Simon Property. Kimco, Macerich and Weingarten combine for about 19 percent of the ETF's weight.

Adding to the positive outlook for retail REITs and RTL is a bullish view on the group's funds from operations (FFO). FFO is used to calculate a REIT's cash flow from operations, which is a vital metric considering that REITs are obligated by law to payout nearly all profits in the form of dividends to shareholders.

"We see funds from operations for the group advancing about 7.5 percent in 2012 and 6 percent in 2013; we are looking for particular strength at Weingarten, which should benefit from the absence of its industrial portfolio that had dragged down results, as well as Simon Property Group (+12 percent expected in 2012) and Taubman Centers, Glimcher," S&P said. "We expect that as earnings continue improving that management will continue boosting dividends, with typical payout ratios still considerably lower than before the financial crisis owing to a general desire among REITs to preserve liquidity."

RTL also features weights of 4.1 percent and four percent, respectively, to CBL and Taubman. Glimcher accounts for just under two percent of the ETF's overall weight. RTL has just $21.7 million in AUM, but the ETF has surged almost 23 percent this year. The fund sports a 30-day SEC yield of 2.77 percent, according to iShares data.

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