Thursday, July 27, 2017

Money Where Your Mouth Is

W.P. Carey closed its syndication business at the end of June, citing high prices for net lease real estate as a reason.  According to Carey, offering its real estate investment trusts no longer made sense due to low cap rates, which means that net lease real estate is too expensive to buy and the yields too low.  I am going to call baloney on this excuse.   If Carey believed its rhetoric it would be either selling the entire company to maximize shareholder value to take advantage of the high net lease values, or it would be selling individual properties or portfolios in particular low cap rate sectors.  I have not read an announcement that Carey is looking for strategic buyers, and its property sales listed in its most recent 10-Q appear incidental.  Two the four listed dispositions in the first quarter involved giving properties back to the lender, not a real estate company's favorite type of disposition, and not the moves of a company capitalizing on a strong market.  Carey did not buy any meaningful real estate, either.

Carey had a unique syndication business.  It was conservative in its approach to managing its real estate funds - favoring long-term mortgages and not the tempting, low interest, variable rate lines of credit adopted by so many sponsors to increase near term cash flow - and its sales team was always professional.  Carey's core REIT product had some of the highest up-front fees in the industry along with some of the lowest ongoing fees.  This runs against today's market, which wants lower up-front fees so that investor's initial statement values do not differ too much from the share price investors paid for their shares*. 

It is my opinion that Carey, as a listed company, expected to make a certain amount of revenue and profit on the high initial fees of its syndication business, and likely built this revenue into its earnings estimates.  I suspect that Carey was unwilling to adapt to products that provided it less up-front revenue and short-term profit, even if it meant foregoing greater profit potential over time.  If it lowered its initial fee income Carey would have to lower earnings estimates, a task loath to any company.  I have been hearing that net lease real estate is too expensive for years, since at least late 2013 or 2014.  Maybe it is, heck, it probably is, no one knows for sure.  Until Carey puts itself up for sale, or sells large portions of its portfolio, I will stick with my opinion that Carey was unwilling to lower up-front fees and that is why it exited the syndication business.

*For example, an investor buys shares listed at $10.00 per share.  With a traditional front end cost of, let's say, 11%, an investor that bought shares at $10.00 would get an first statement showing a real value of $8.90.  Sponsors have been lowering, paying, deferring, and reclassifying costs to bring the statement value up to a more investor palatable price, which are discounted 4% to 6% ($9.60 to $9.40 per share) rather than the 11%.   

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