How important are dividends to a stock investor’s profits? Speaking before the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) on October 15, 2007, investing guru John Bogle laid out the case: “Over the past 81 years… reinvested dividend income accounted for approximately 95 percent of the compound long-term return earned by the companies in the S&P 500. These stunning figures would seem to demand that mutual funds highlight the importance of dividend income.” So in other words, dividends are pretty important! Of course, right now the average stock on the S&P 500 is only paying about a 2% dividend yield, which isn’t a lot. If you want to do better than that, though, the REIT sector is a great place to begin your search for high-yield dividend stocks. REITs are companies that acquire, own, operate, and manage real estate portfolios, usually some combination of residential or commercial real properties, or their associated mortgage loans and mortgage-backed securities. Tax law requires that these companies return profits directly to shareholders, and most of them choose dividends as their vehicle of choice for compliance, resulting in frequent high dividend yields across the sector. The slowly ebbing COVID pandemic was hard on real estate managers, as tenants had trouble making rents and owners had trouble leasing vacant space. However, BTIG analyst Tim Hayes believes there are reasons to stay bullish on CRE properties specifically. “While we recognize the headwinds to commercial real estate (CRE) fundamentals and the potential risk to equity/earnings power, we believe there are several reasons to be constructive, especially with the sector trading at a discount to historical levels and offering attractive dividend yields at wide spreads to benchmark rates,” Hayes commented. Against this backdrop, we’ve opened up the TipRanks database to get the latest stats on Hayes’ CRE choices. These are stocks that the analyst initiated Buy ratings on, pointing out their high dividend yield. We are talking about at least 9% here. Ares Commercial Real Estate (ACRE) The first dividend pick we are looking at is Ares Commercial Real Estate, a company focused on the commercial real estate mortgage sector. Ares boasts a diversified portfolio – featuring office space, apartments, hotels, and mixed-use properties – mainly across the Southeast and West. The company has over $2 billion invested in 49 separate loans, 95% of which are senior mortgage loans. At the end of October, the company released 3Q20 earnings (the last reported quarter), showing $22.4 million in total revenue, for a 13% year-over-year gain. The 45-cents earnings per common share was up 40% since the prior year. Furthermore, Ares closed a $667 million commercial real estate collateralized loan obligation, with firmed up funding on 23 senior loans. On the dividend front, Ares declared in December its 4Q20 dividend. The payment, at 33 cents per common share, was paid out on January 15 – and is fully covered by current income levels. At current rates, the dividend annualizes to $1.32 and gives an impressive yield of 10.50%. Among the bulls is Hayes, who wrote: “We believe shares of ACRE are unfairly discounted relative to other commercial mREITs given strong Ares sponsorship, a very healthy balance sheet, and limited exposure to at-risk assets.” In his view, this leaves the company “well positioned to face the headwinds from COVID-19.” In line with these comments, Hayes rates ACRE a Buy, and his $13.50 price target implies a 10% upside from current levels. (To watch Hayes’ track record, click here) Only one other analyst has posted a recent ACRE review, also rating the stock a Buy, which makes the analyst consensus here a Moderate Buy. Shares are priced at $12.28, and their $12.75 average price target suggests room for modest ~4% growth. (See ACRE stock analysis on TipRanks) KKR Real Estate Finance Trust (KREF) Next up we have KKR, which operates in the commercial real estate sector, with almost half of its holdings in the states of New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts. The company both owns and finances commercial properties; 83% of its activities are with apartment dwellings and office spaces in desirable urban locations. KKR’s quality can be seen in the company’s quarterly results. The liquidity position was strong – KKR reported $700.6 million available at the end of 3Q20, the last quarter reported. The 56-cent EPS was up 7% sequentially, and 36% year-over-year. Further evidence of KKR’s sound position came at the beginning of January, when the announced it had closed 7 new commercial loans in Q4, totaling $565.4 million. This level of activity is a clear sign that KKR is recovering from the pandemic-related economic turndown. The solid foundation put the company in position to continue its dividend – which has been kept reliable for four years now. The most recent declaration, made in December, was for a 43-cent per common share dividend that was paid out in mid-January. That rate gives an annual payment of $1.72 per common share, and a robust yield of 9.7%. Covering KREF, Hayes is most impressed by the company’s move back toward proactive loan origination, saying, “We view 4Q20 origination activity to be in line with pre-pandemic production, and demonstrates a shift from “defense” to “offense” as transaction activity has picked up and the capital markets remain accommodative. We expect increased capital deployment to support earnings power and dividend coverage, and could potentially warrant an increase in the dividend as the macroeconomic outlook improves.” To this end, Hayes gives KREF a Buy and sets a $19.50 price target that indicates ~6% growth from current levels. (To watch Hayes’ track record, click here) Wall Street has been keeping quiet on all things KREF, and the only other recent review also recommends a Buy. Put together, the stock has a Moderate Buy consensus rating. Meanwhile, the average price target stands at 19.26 and implies a modest ~5% upside. (See KREF stock analysis on TipRanks) Starwood Property Trust (STWD) For the third stock on Hayes’ list of picks, we turn to Starwood, a commercial mortgage REIT with a varied portfolio of first mortgages and mezzanine loans, in the $50 million to $500 million range. The company operates in the US and Europe, boasts a $5.9 billion market cap, and has offices in New York, London, and San Francisco. Starwood’s high-end portfolio has brought it solid earnings, even during the ‘corona recession’ of 2020. The company recorded $152 million in GAAP earnings for 3Q20, coming out to 53 cents per share, for gains of 8% sequentially and 6% year-over-year. With that in the background, we can note the company’s dividend, which has been held steady at 48 cents per share for over two years. The last declaration was made in December, and the dividend was paid out on January 15. At the current rate, it annualizes to $1.92 and the yield is 9.23%. Once again, we’re looking at a stock that Hayes recommends to Buy. “We view STWD to be one of the few “blue chips” in the commercial mREIT sector given its size, liquidity, best-in-class management team, strong balance sheet, and diversified investment platform which has consistently generated stronger ROEs than peers. To that end, STWD is one of few commercial mREITs that neither restructured its liabilities with expensive rescue capital nor cut its dividend since the onset of COVID-19,” Hayes opined. Overall, there is little action on the Street heading STWD’s way right now, with only one other analyst chiming in with a view on the company’s prospects. An additional Buy rating means STWD qualifies as a Moderate Buy. However, the $21 average price target suggests shares will remain range bound for the foreseeable future. (See STWD stock analysis on TipRanks) To find good ideas for dividend stocks trading at attractive valuations, visit TipRanks’ Best Stocks to Buy, a newly launched tool that unites all of TipRanks’ equity insights. Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the featured analysts. The content is intended to be used for informational purposes only. It is very important to do your own analysis before making any investment.