Real estate investment trusts earned higher returns during the past decade than investments in any other equity sector, according to research from the National Association of Real Estate Investment Trusts.

Investors who put $10,000 into the FTSE NAREIT Equity REIT Index at the beginning of the decade would have finished it with $27,454, the association said on Thursday. By contrast, investors who put the same amount in the Standard & Poor's 500 Index would have finished the decade with $9,090.

A similar investment in the Nasdaq Composite Index or the Russell 2000 Index would have netted $5,577 or $14,127, respectively.

Analysts attributed the REIT sector's success to strong performance at the beginning of the decade and a sharp recovery in the second half of last year.

Peter Slatin, a real estate analyst and the editorial director of Real Capital Analytics in New York, said that REITs outperformed every sector of the market for the first years of the decade, through March 2007. He said that, from the early 1990s through the end of 2006, the REIT industry burgeoned from $10 billion of assets to $350 billion.

In the 10 years through Dec. 31, the FTSE NAREIT Equity REIT Index delivered an average annual total return of 10.63%, and the FTSE NAREIT All REITs Index averaged a 10.18% annual return. In the same period, the average annual total return of the S&P 500 was minus-0.95% and of the Nasdaq Composite, minus-5.67%. The Russell 2000's average annual total return was 3.51%.

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