Essex Property Trust's Fourth and U in Berkeley, CA. The REIT raised more than $150 million via its ATM program in Q1.

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA—US equity REITs raised a total of $600.6 million from at-the-market offerings in the first three months of 2014, a dropoff of 54% from the first quarter of 2013, says locally based SNL Financial. However, the tally was up about $186 million, or 45%, from the $414.2 million raised through ATMs in Q4 of last year.

Both the fundraising during Q1 and the number of REITs ennaged in ATMs during the quarter lagged the nmbers a year prior. In Q1 ’13, 36 real estate trusts raised $1.3 billion through ATM programs; in Q1 of 2014, only 20 such programs tapped the public markets.

Fundraising champ through ATMs in Q1 was Essex Property Trust Inc., which completed an aggregate $157.6 million in common equity. The West Coast apartment REIT accounted for more than a quarter of the total amount raised in the first three months of the year by US equity REITs, according to SNL. The remaining shares of ESS’s March 29, ‘13 ATM program were rolled into its May 16, ‘14 program, resulting in a total of up to four million shares being offered.

STAG Industrial Inc. sold the second-largest dollar amount through at-the-market offerings during Q1. The Boston-based REIT raised $77.6 million through two separate programs, announced Dec. 14, 2012, and March 10, 2014, respectively. In terms of the number of shares sold through an ATM program, the leader was Denver-based DCT Industrial Trust, which sold an aggregate of 5.9 million shares, raising $44.2 million.

As of June 10, 17 domestic equity REITs had announced ATM offering programs since the current year began. That compares to 27 REITs which had announced such programs over the same period in ‘13.

Three years ago, it was a different story. The Wall Street Journal reported in 2011 that REITs accounted for 82% of the $1.9 billion in ATMs registered with the SEC as of August of that year.

The Journal cited, among other things, the lower cost associated with an ATM program compared to a follow-on offering. Conversely, the Journal noted that public investors don’t like ATMs as much because it gives them less say about use of the proceeds.

Among the REITs announcing new programs year-to-date, Jackon, MS-based industrial REIT EastGroup Properties Inc. launched the largest program. A Feb. 19 SEC filing inducated that its proposed maximum aggregate offering price for the program equals approximately $607 million. During Q1, EastGroup issued and sold 321,645 shares of common stock under its continuous equity program at an average price of $62.18 per share, with gross proceeds of $20 million.

YTD, Boston Properties‘ $600-million program has been the second largest to be announced. The Boston-based office REIT announced on June 3 that would relace its prior $600-million ATM program, which had expired the day before.

SNL notes that among the 17 deals announced YTD, Merrill Lynch Pierce Fenner & Smith Inc. and Wells Fargo Securities LLC will act as selling agents in 11 and nine of the deals, respectively. Merrill Lynch is among the sales agents in BXP’s offering, for example, with others including BNY Mellon Capital Markets, Deutsche Bank Securities Inc., J.P. Morgan Securities LLC and Morgan Stanley & Co. LLC.