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(Reuters) - Real estate investment trust Duke Realty Corp (DRE.N) is exploring the sale of its medical office buildings that could be worth as much as $3 billion, as it seeks to focus on its warehouse portfolio, people familiar with the matter said.
The move represents the latest strategy shift for the Indianapolis-based company, two years after it decided to shed its suburban office properties to shield itself from volatility in the wider U.S. commercial real estate market.
Duke Realty is working with investment bank Morgan Stanley on the sale of its medical office portfolio, which has attracted the interest of healthcare-focused REITs, the sources said this week. The sale process is ongoing and there is no certainty it will result in a deal, the people added.
The sources asked not to be identified because the matter is confidential. Duke Realty and Morgan Stanley did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Duke Realty shares jumped as much as 1.3 percent on the news to $26.03, giving the company a market capitalization of more than $9.3 billion.
Duke Realty owned a portfolio of 561 commercial properties in 21 major U.S. metropolitan areas encompassing 139.6 million net rentable square feet as of the end of December, according to its latest annual report. Out of those, 455 were bulk distribution industrial properties and 86 were medical office buildings.
The divestiture would leave Duke Realty's portfolio comprised almost solely of industrial properties. These have been among the real estate sector's strongest performers because of the advent of internet shopping, which has buoyed demand for warehouse space to store and process goods for shipment.
"The REIT's well-located portfolio of industrial assets should continue to benefit from accelerating demand for high-quality logistics product and measured supply growth," Moody's Investors Service Inc analyst Alice Chung wrote in a note in November.
While Duke Realty's medical office properties have proved resilient in economic downturns, their fortunes are tied to those of hospitals they share a campus with. Many hospitals are expected to take a hit if the Affordable Care Act is repealed, because fewer patients are expected to be covered by the alternative.
As well, the growth rate of rents in Duke's medical office building portfolio has lagged that of its industrial properties. Real estate investors tend to reward REITs that focus on a single type of real estate, and buy or develop similar quality properties.
Reporting by Carl O'Donnell in New York; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Bernadette Baum