Friday, March 26, 2010

Is Walgreens Leading Us Down the Yellow Brick Road?

Walgreens has been considered the bellwether for net lease properties, its high credit ratings (A2 for Moody’s and A+ for S&P) ensuring stability relative to the market. For the past year its cap rates have been climbing and many forecasted they would continue to rise till years end, however, recent developments may indicate that are cap rates leveling off. If Walgreens can be considered a bellwether for the market, this could point to wider implications.

Starting in late 2008 fears began to mount about the inflationary effects of governmental spending. The 25 year flat lease, customary on most Walgreens net lease properties, became increasing unattractive as a long term hold asset. Furthermore, the glut of properties on the market, 200-250 in 2008-09 compared to around 100 in 2007, placed upward pressure on cap rates. As a result Walgreens witnessed cap rates go from an average of 6.3% in Q4 2008 to 7.9% in Q3 2009. Some predicted average cap rates would exceed 8% by the end of 2009. However, as the year ended and we entered 2010, it became clear the upward motion of cap rates had ceased.

There is now a sense of stabilization in regards to Walgreens cap rates. It has been reported they averaged out at 7.5% for 2009, a far cry from the 8% some predicted. This could be because fears over future inflation have subsided and/or supply has decreased. Certainly there is a perception that the economy has taken a few steps back from the precipice of disaster encountered in 2008. Such developments could downplay the risk of inflation in people’s minds. It is also known that the supply of Walgreens has dropped substantially; there are now much less than the 200 or so properties previously on the market. This could mean that the market has already achieved stabilization through our current cap rate increases and now stands at a rough equilibrium.

Though it seems Walgreens has reached some cap rate stability, it is still unclear whether or not this applies to the rest of the market. There are still reports of large bid-ask spreads between buyers and sellers, so the net lease market has certainly not leveled out just yet. However, judging from Walgreens history as an indicator, it may not be far behind.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Want to 1031 into a Property You Already Own?

There are times when an investor may want to sell one of his properties and invest its proceeds in another he owns. In the past the IRS forbade 1031 exchanges in such cases, however, today there are means around it. It is known as an “advanced built to suit” transaction and though it has never been explicitly supported by the IRS, it has been upheld by private letter rulings.

The difference between the advanced build to suit transaction and a typical tax deferred exchange (or one with a build to suit component) is the type of property designated as replacement property. In a build to suit tax exchange, the replacement property is owned by a third party, with Exchange Accommodation Titleholder (EAT) obtaining the replacement property’s title, which it holds while the property undergoes its improvements. In the advanced build to suit transaction, the taxpayer is attempting to transfer funds into property already owned by him. However, Rev. Proc. 2004-51 places restrictions on using replacement property owned by the taxpayer within 6 months of the exchange. Thus, the taxpayer is unable to accept either “assignment of the LLC or direct deeding of the Replacement Property after the improvements have been made directly.”

In order to complete this arrangement, the taxpayer must enter into a 1031 like-kind exchange agreement with a QI, after which he enters into QEAA and Construction Management Agreement with the EAT. He would then send cash or agree to a loan with the EAT, allowing the EAT to purchase replacement property and carryout the improvements. The EAT then acquires title to the replacement property and sets it up in a LLC. The EAT also has authority to appoint a Taxpayer General Contractor under the Construction Management Agreement, who acts as Fund Control, making disbursements as construction commences. After 180 days, the QI will direct the EAT to transfer the replacement property directly to the taxpayer, this is accomplished by handing over control of the LLC to the taxpayer.

If completed correctly, with the right guidance and supervision, this transaction allows investors to greatly improve their own properties and consolidate their holdings. This flexibility can be extremely beneficial during recessions or other economic downtimes, when ancillary properties become less valuable and the need to improve core ones increases. Thus, the advanced built to suit exchange gives investors another tool to use in the marketplace.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

What We Can Take From Warren Buffet

Recently, Warren Buffet sent a letter to his stock holders in which he outlined six key points to his success. They are rather simple and based upon sound common sense; the trick is not in knowing them, but in applying them. As they are quite general in nature, they can also be applied to the net lease market, which after all, is just another form of investment.

Stay Liquid. Warren Buffet wrote:

"We will always arrange our affairs so that any requirements for cash we may conceivably have will be dwarfed by our own liquidity. Moreover, that liquidity will be constantly refreshed by a gusher of earnings from our many and diverse businesses."

There are two simple lessons to be gleaned from this advice, 1.) Have cash, and, 2.) Ensure investments produce cash. While seemingly easy to follow, it is clear from the recent real estate and financial crisis that these principles are quickly lost. Overleveraging and risky investments can too easily entice people from the shores of sanity. When investing in net leases, ensure you are not overleveraged and that your investment is a sound, income producing property.

Buy When Everyone Else Is Selling.

"We've put a lot of money to work during the chaos of the last two years. It's been an ideal period for investors: A climate of fear is their best friend. . . . Big opportunities come infrequently. When it's raining gold, reach for a bucket, not a thimble."

This is pretty easy to understand but hard to follow. First of all its takes a considerable amount of bravery and foresight to run in the opposite direction as everyone else, secondly, it takes well planned fundamentals to ensure one has the cash to take advantage of the situation. However, for investors who do have the resources, allowing fear to inhibit investment opportunities defeats the entire purpose of investing.

Today’s commercial real estate market is obviously at a low point but those who insist on “waiting for the bottom” are in reality waiting for someone else to start investing first. In order to capitalize one must first mobilize and do so before the mob.

Don't Buy When Everyone Else Is Buying.

"Those who invest only when commentators are upbeat end up paying a heavy price for meaningless reassurance,"

Nothing is free. That includes “reassurance”, with which one buys off the cognitive dissonance of a decision. The most utilized source of this are the opinions of other people; we all care deeply about “what others think”. The price for this can be easily assessed in terms of cash, as demand increases price. Thus, the more people it takes to lend support to your investment, the more money you will pay for it.

Value, Value, Value.

"In the end, what counts in investing is what you pay for a business -- through the purchase of a small piece of it in the stock market-- and what that business earns in the succeeding decade or two."

When investing in commercial real estate it is very important to obtain an asset which produces value. There are many ways of assessing this, but stability overtime is usually the most reliable. A few years ago, many would have rather owned an artificial island off the coast of Dubai instead of a less luxurious grocery store in a high traffic area; it is easy now to see which one time has judged the better.

Understand What You Own.

"Investors who buy and sell based upon media or analyst commentary are not for us,"

It is important to study the fundamentals of what you wish to acquire, with net leases this is especially important. Location, credit tenant rating, past returns, and lease agreements can all impact an investment tremendously. Before making an investment it is vital to understand its attributes.

Defense Beats Offense.

"Though we have lagged the S&P in some years that were positive for the market, we have consistently done better than the S&P in the 11 years during which it delivered negative results. In other words, our defense has been better than our offense, and that's likely to continue."

Aggressiveness can be a value but it must be paired with a secure end. There is no gain in being aggressive in a market which bottoms out. As Napoleon said “Take time to deliberate, but when the time for action has arrived, stop thinking and go in.” It is important to create a strategy which will provide in both high and low tides. Take the necessary time to pick the proper asset and then proceed forth with vigor.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

How Will Retail Fare in 2010?

As 2010 gets underway it is inevitable the same questions which many had in ’08 and ’09 will be asked again. Concerns about the health of our economy, specifically retail, have not been resolved. Outright recovery is not forecasted and many are now predicting an extended economic quagmire. Since it appears likely the climate will be similar to last years, the companies that do well in 2010 will likely be the same that succeeded in the previous two years.

As reported by Shopping Center Business, the top three expanding U.S. Retailers in 2009 were: McDonald’s with 1000 stores, Walgreens with 554 and Dollar General with 500. These three companies perfectly illustrate that “value” is the biggest seller in today’s market. This trend has continued into 2010. In February Walgreens agreed to buy Duane Reade (257 drug stores) and the operator of T.J. Maxx and Marshalls announcedplans to nearly double its overall store count from just above 2,700 units to 4,200 locations”, with 130 new stores planned for this year.Dollar General not only plans to open 600 new stores this year, but will feature investor friendly lease terms as it moves away from its traditional modified double-net lease to a more favorable triple net lease. This will definitely be a crowd pleaser for net lease investors, who seek no landlord responsibilities and wish only to receive a monthly check.

While the 0.3% and 0.5% increases in retail sales respectively for December and January encourage the possibility that sales will significantly increase this year, it seems likely they will generally remain flat. With an average unemployment rate of 9.8% forecasted for 2010, many families will continue to place a preference on savings and value. This plays to the advantage of companies such as McDonald’s, Dollar General and Walgreens, ensuring their expansions will continue. Furthermore, a recovery may not necessitate a return to 2005 spending practices. Many consumers were badly burned through the over-leveraging which allowed for the high level of purchases seen in the “boom years”; this could encourage a long term preference for value.

In the past two years the most successful net lease tenants have been value tenants such as McDonalds, Dollar General and Walgreens. Their focus on affordable products has not only ensured survival, but allowed for great amounts of store expansion. With no indicator to say otherwise, it is likely this trend will hold for the duration of 2010.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Alert: HB 417 Facilitators Act Established in Virginia

In response to the recent wave of 1031 exchange fraud, highlighted by the Landamerica case, Virginia has enacted a law which it hopes will better protect the integrity of 1031 transactions. Key to the new bill is the establishment of the three requirements, all of which are already standard practices at ES Group:

  • “Exchange facilitators are required to notify exchange clients of change in control of the exchange facilitator”
  • “Maintain exchange funds in separately identified accounts or in a qualified escrow or qualified trust”
  • “Maintain errors and omissions insurance or deposit cash or letters of credit; and to account for moneys and property”

Language is also inserted prohibiting exchange facilitators from participating in various forms of fraud as well as the establishment of a max civil penalty of $2,500 for any infraction.

Click here for the full bill.