Friday, March 31, 2017

Turn Out The Lights

Lightstone Capital Markets announced today, March 31, 2017, that it is terminating the offering of its hotel equity Lightstone Value Plus III and its affiliated mezzanine lending Lightstone Real Estate Income Trust.  Lightstone's letter explaining the offering terminations stated that a combination of (unspecified) factors lead to the decision to stop raising capital in its two public non-traded REITs.  It assured investors that concerns for the capital already invested was not a reason.

Lightstone has never been a capital raising powerhouse.  It was bringing in $10 million to $15 million per month combined in the two REITs on a consistent basis.  By current standards this is a respectable capital inflow, but it is by no means great.  I suspect this slow, expensive raise, was the leading factor in Lightstone's decision to close the two REITs' capital offerings.  Through February 2017, Lightstone Value Plus III had raised $124 million in equity and Lightstone Real Estate Income Trust had raised $73 million.   Let's be clear, real estate companies never stop steady capital inflows regardless of the market outlooks - unless cheaper money is available.  Any notion that Lightstone is halting capital because it cannot find attractive deals is nonsense.  

Separately, Lightstone had told broker dealers for several years that Lightstone Value Plus REIT II, the predecessor REIT to the now-closed Lightstone Value Plus REIT III, was ready for a liquidity event and that it was in advance talks with potential purchasers of the REIT.  It is my opinion that any near-term liquidity event for Lightstone Value Plus REIT II is now unlikely.  Investor capital from a liquidity event no longer has a Lightstone fund in which to reinvest and would leave to other non-Lightstone investments, which is the biggest fear of firms that receive asset management fees, and a disincentive for Lightstone Value Plus II to seek liquidity.   

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

My Retail Obsession

Here is another post on failing retailers.  I can't help it, I find it fascinating.  Last weekend the Financial Times published a long article on the decline of Sears and the shopping mall.  Sears' failures are the result of losing the competitive battle with WalMart and an owner who may have been a hot shot Goldman Sachs financial wunderkid but knew nothing about retail when he bought Sears and has not seemed to learn on the job. 

I find this graphic from the article illustrative of the problems facing retailers:

The retailers having so much trouble - JC Penney, Macy's, and Sears - have wide exposure in Class B and Class C malls, which are older malls in poorer areas and/or more rural locations.  These are the malls in WalMart territory.  Retailers in Class A malls like Nordstrom and Bloomingdale's are not facing the problems of retailers in the lower grade malls, and you can't tell me that Nordstrom's and Bloomingdale's shoppers are not as active online as those shoppers at Sears, Penney's and Macy's.  How the Class B and Class C malls compete with WalMart and other single-stop discounters, or the sociological and demographic shifts impacting retail and shopping malls, are more important stories than Sears' inept operation since Eddie Lampert acquired it in 2004. 

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Another PE Retailer Bankruptcy

Bloomberg is reporting that Payless, the discount shoe retailer, is set to file for bankruptcy next week.  Payless was purchased in 2012 by private equity firms Golden Gate Capital and Blum Capital.  I wrote last week about the disaster private equity owners have been to retailers.

The Moody Merger Hot Mess

I thought this blog was the place for sharp analysis in a snark covered wrapper regarding alternative investments.  It seems I have some competition from an old industry player.  Robert Stanger & Co. has published some brutal commentary on the American Financial Trust (AFIN) and Retail Centers of America merger, and Brookfield Strategic Real Estate Partners II's advantageous investment into ARC Hospitality.  Last week Stanger shredded the cockamamie proposed merger of Moody National REIT II's (Moody's II) proposal to merge with Moody National REIT I (Moody I).  Here is the link (via the DI Wire) to read the entire Stanger commentary on the Moody merger.

The merger was originally announced last September.  It makes no sense for me to resummairze the merger because Stanger's report is excellent. The following is Stanger's summary of the merger and the fees involved with it:

So now comes Moody II with an offer to merge with Moody I by issuing shares of Moody II or, subject to an aggregate limit of 50%, cash for each Moody I share. The stated range of nominal consideration to the Moody I shareholders is $10.25 to $11.00 per share, depending upon the level of transaction costs incurred in the deal. While the structure is unusual to say the least, the transaction cannibalizes the inherent value of Moody I investors’ shares by burdening that value with up to $21.8 million of transaction costs. We estimate these transaction costs represent 13.8% of the aggregate Moody I equity value.
To take another bite out of the Moody I investors, Moody II will be denominating the value of the shares of Moody II at $25.00 per share rather than the pro forma Combined Net Investment Amount of approximately $23.00. By our calculation, the aggregate cost and discount related to the fees and possibly overstated stock price ascribed to Moody II in the merger totals about $29.3 million, or about 19% of the pre-transaction equity value of Moody I.
Looked at from a different perspective, the investors in Moody I are incurring up to $21.8 mil- lion of transaction costs to merge with a portfolio comprised of two hotel properties and one note purchased at an aggregate cost of $113 million – a merger which at best will provide liquidity to half of the Moody I investors.
Stanger goes on to detail Moody's II's skirting of the intent of FINRA 15-02, the lack of disclosure to investors regarding financial details of the merger, lack of fee disclosure, and how Moody's is paying financial advisors to recommend clients select the non-cash merger option of taking shares in Moody's II rather than cashing out. 

Moody's II has raised $91.7 million of investor equity through February 2017.   It has been raising equity capital for two years and only owns two hotel properties and a note receivable.  Moody's I closed its offering in early 2015, raised $133 million, and owns twelve hotel properties.  

I will add two points that I did not read in the Stanger report.  First, by merging Moody's I into Moody's II, Moody's I investors now own shares in a non-traded REIT that is still raising money.  Moody's II can extend its offer period another three years.  This is not a liquidity event, but some kind of twisted non-traded REIT hell where investors in a closed REIT get stuck in a capital raising reset.  

Second, if half the Moody's I investors select the cash option, where will Moody's II come up with the cash?  At a $133 million equity raise for Moody's I, that is at least $66 million Moody's II has to find to cash out the 50% limit.  Add this to all the fees Moody's is paying itself, and it is likely Moody's II will have to borrow money to cash out investors and pay fees.  (Moody's II had about $12 million in cash at September 30, 2016, the date of its most recent financial statement.  It is raising about $7 million a month in new equity.)

I urge you to read the Stanger commentary

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Dark Corners

There are some strange stories on financial websites and message boards.  I found an odd post on a bizarre transaction on the Seeking Alpha website.  It discusses a transaction between Presidential REIT and First Capital Real Estate Trust, Inc., where First Capital entered into an "interest contribution agreement" with Presidential on a 23-acre development site in Sacramento.  First Capital is contributing a 66% interest in its 92% ownership interest in the development project in exchange for 37,281,000 convertible Operating Partnership units.   The author of the Seeking Alpha article somehow thought this transaction added value to Presidential, and allowed investors to buy Presidential's stock at a 39% discount.

A non-cash transaction involving a development property and operating partnership units in a REIT with a market capitalization of $4 million is suspect.  The story then goes from suspect to downright dodgy.  The Seeking Alpha article makes no mention that as part of the "interest contribution agreement" Presidential is assuming 66% of First Capital's liabilities on the project, and that the project with the supposed hidden value is in default on its mortgage.  The Sacramento property is subject to a mortgage with a $20 million principal, but the mortgage is in default due to First Capital's inability make principal and accrued interest payments, and First Capital now owes $42 million on the mortgage.  First Capital has received a "Notice of Default and Election to Sell under Deed of Trust" from its lender.  

(Think about it, the original mortgage value of $20 million requires a $42 million payment, or more than double the principal outstanding.  This is due to accrued interest that gets paid at loan maturity along with principal, and not in regular interest payments.  To accrue this much interest, even at an assumed high interest rate, would require years of accrual.  This loan had to have been extended repeatedly, which shows the poor management at First Capital.  This is staggering.)

If the astute Seeking Alpha analyst/author determined its supposed $23 million net value for the development project with the outstanding $20 million principal, the addition of $22 million eliminates all value.  The analyst should have read First Capital's filings.  This whole transaction is nuts.  It is as if both sides are trying to take advantage of one another - Presidential trying to buy assets with worthless operating partnership units as currency, and First Capital passing off a near underwater property with a defaulted mortgage to a dupe.  And even if the analyst incorporated the $42 million mortgage into his valuation, how is Presidential, with a market cap of less than $5 million, going to repay this mortgage? 

I wrote about First Capital last fall.  It has not filed financial statements since the second quarter of 2015.   It is a public company; it has to file financial statements.  Its reverse merger with Presidential, although announced in July 2016, has not happened, and instead it is entering into non-cash deals with Presidential and others.  This company is toxic.  Oh, and it is still trying to raise money from investors in private placements.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Carter Validus' Whisper Sale

On March 3, 2017, Reuters published an exclusive article stating that public, non-traded REIT Carter Validus was up for sale at a price tag of more than $3.5 billion.  The article cited unnamed people "familiar with the matter."  Carter Validus has not made any public filings to confirm or deny the article.  This would be great news if Carter Validus liquidates.  The Reuters article reads as though Carter Validus is shopping its data center properties and its health care properties to separate buyers.

I am skeptical of any transaction until I see a confirmation from Carter Validus.  It hired Goldman Sachs in 2015 to find liquidity but nothing happened.  Carter Validus is an established, fully invested REIT that continues to over pay its distribution.  According to its third quarter 10-Q, the REIT had overpaid its distributions in 2015 and for the first nine months of 2016.  For the first nine months of 2016 distributions were $96 million and modified funds from operation (MFFO) were $85.9 million.  (Carter Validus added a risk disclosure at the end of its third quarter 10-Q regarding the over payment of its distribution.) 

In addition to its distribution over payment, the REIT has about a third of its nearly $1 billion of debt in variable rate borrowings.  Interest rates have increased since November.  The thirty-day LIBOR rates have increased about 50 basis points over this time.  Carter Validus' third quarter 10-Q states that a 50 basis point increase in interest rates would increase the REIT's interest expense rate by $1.5 million per year.  The increased interest expense lowers amounts available for distribution.   The REIT has another $542 million of variable rate debt that is currently fixed using interest rate hedges.  These hedges expire between late-2017 and mid-2020.  If the hedged debt is not retired before the hedges expire, the REIT will have to buy more expense hedges to keep rates fixed or pay higher interest expense.

I state the last two items because under certain liquidation scenarios Carter Validus is going to have to deal with its distribution over payment.  Any buyer of the REIT will lower the current distribution.   As interest rates have increased capitalization rates have increased, too.  Cap rates and valuation are inversely related, so an increase in cap rates means a lower valuation for an underlying property.  (I have not seen an article on cap rates increasing, but have talked to real estate professionals who told me that cap rates have increased, but not at the pace of interest rates.)

I hope Carter Validus has a buyer(s) and executes a transaction soon. If Carter Validus liquidates its portfolio in two more more transactions, capital is going to come back in multiple payments, not one big lump sum payment.  

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Retail's Other Problem

On-line shopping has hurt retailers.  In 2016, ecommerce sales were estimated at $1.9 trillion, and are expected to double to over $4 trillion by 2020.  In shopping malls, anchor tenants are closing and the surrounding retailers are impacted by fewer shoppers.  I am reading this morning that Neiman Marcus is looking to sell itself because of a sales slump.  Its same store sales fell 6.8% for the quarter ending January 28.  Neiman Marcus has a bigger problem than declining sales, and this line from the Bloomberg article linked to above tells it all:
The company has about $4.9 billion of debt outstanding, some of it tied to its $6 billion acquisition in 2013 led by Ares Management LLC and the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board. They bought the chain from TPG Capital and Warburg Pincus LLC, which acquired Neiman Marcus for about $5 billion in a 2005 leveraged buyout.
Neiman Marcus is over 80% leveraged, and that is based on its 2013 purchase price.  It has $4.9 billion of debt outstanding and S&P recently said Neiman Marcus' debt is unsustainable.  The private equity firms that acquired trophy retailers with extreme debt levels give firms like Neiman Marcus little room to operate in a slump.  Neiman Marcus' capital issue is now more pressing than its sales decline, and its likely taking more of management time than thinking of creative ways to attract new customers.  The Bloomberg article says that one Neiman Marcus bond issue is trading at $.49 on the dollar, a price that says the market expects default.   Private equity firms have ruined many retailers, restraining management and growth because of demands to service debt.