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No. 34 Ventas

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No. 34 Ventas

Value of investment: $24,515.42*

5-year return: 145.2%
2009 revenues: $935.3 million
2009 net income: $266.5 million

An owner and manager of hospitals, nursing homes, and personal-care facilities across the U.S., Ventas has sparkled in recent years, returning 39 percent to shareholders in 2009 and 2,000 percent over the past decade. By that measure the Chicago-based real estate investment trust outperformed all publicly traded financial companies, including banks, insurance companies, and other REITs. It helps to be in health care, a rare growth sector during the recession, though CEO Debra Cafaro (above), 52, gets credit for smart financial management. “In 2007 we thought we were going into a dangerous financial period,” she says. So the company fortified its balance sheet by selling assets, reducing debt, and raising $1.1 billion in equity. The moves paid off when S&P awarded Ventas an investment-grade credit rating in 2008. Cafaro continued to execute her conservative strategy through 2009, increasing bank lines of credit, raising more equity, and minimizing acquisitions. Last year Ventas enjoyed an operating margin of 67.6 percent, the highest of all companies in the Bloomberg Businessweek 50.

Ventas’ performance is especially remarkable in the context of a real estate crash that dragged down the entire stock market. “Our assets performed well, and we showed strong fundamental cash flows,” Cafaro says. “But in the stock market we were really thrown in with all the other financial and REIT stocks.” From a low of $18.37 on Dec. 1, 2008, Ventas’ shares have rebounded to trade around $48. Noting that baby boomers start becoming eligible for Medicare in 2011, Cafaro is bullish.

*For all slides as of 3/31/10