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A Debt-Free Spin-Off in a Traditionally Debt-Heavy Sector

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June 18, 2010 – Comments (7) | RELATED TICKERS: GOV

 

What is one of the main problem with the REIT sector?  The high debt level that many of the companies that operate in that sector maintain.  One doesn't have to look any farther than the recently well publicized problems that the mall giant General Growth Properties went through and its subsequent filing for bankruptcy to see that a real-estate crash, high debt levels, and REITs don't go well together.

Well, what if I told you that I have found a REIT that not only has practically no debt, but is a recent spin-off, and pays a dividend of over 6%?  Sounds pretty good, huh?

The company that I am referring to is Government Properties Income Trust (GOV).  This REIT was spun-off from HRPT around a year ago.  If only I had known about it then because the stock is up significantly since then.  It still offers tremendous value.

As one would suspect, GOV is a REIT that rents buildings to the government.  Fortunately most of its contracts are with the Federal government, which keeps growing and can print as much money as it wants, rather than state governments, which are having huge financial problems and many of which are required to have a balanced budget.

For those of you who aren't familiar with how REITs work, they aren't required to pay taxes but they are required to pay 90% of their earnings out to shareholders in the form of dividends.  That's why GOV currently yields more than 6%.  That's a pretty awesome yield in today's zero interest rate world.

Two of the key metrics to focus on when looking at REITs are companies' funds from operations (FFO) and their renewal rates.  Both of these numbers are great for GOV.  It currently trades at 10.9 times its estimated FFO and it has a 99%+ lease renewal rate.

As I mentioned previously, most REITs are very levered, but...GOV has practically no debt.  As it levels up its balance sheet to more closely resemble other companies in its industry we will likely see a significant increase in its dividend, which in turn will attract more investors to the stock and likely cause its share price to increase.  By purchasing GOV today you can ride a long as it raises dividends over the coming years.  Without any leverage GOV is significantly safer than most other REITs are today.  If you are ultimately uncomfortable with the level of leverage that GOV employs when it ramps things up, you can sell its stock at what will likely be a significant capital gain.

Just a few days ago, GOV announced that it plans to purchase 15 buildings from its former parent company HRPT for $231 million.  GOV expects these properties to yield it an 8.9% annual return on investment, which is above its current and the industry average.  This transaction alone has the potential to increase GOV's dividend payment by 20%.

Another catalyst that should benefit this stock is that state governments that are having huge financial problems may be forced to sell off assets, including buildings, in the coming years. GOV leases mostly to the Federal government, but one would expect them to become more involved on the state level if attractive opportunities to purchase buildings with the dry powder that being debt-free provides.  GOV has openly stated that it intends to be active in purchasing new properties, with the ultimate goal of increasing its asset base from its current $600 million to more than a billion over the next year to two years.

All in all, Government Properties appears to be a relatively safe investment that provides investors with a high current yield and a number of catalysts that could eventually result in significant gains down the road.

To give credit where credit is due, much of the information in this write-up comes from a great presentation on the stock by David Sackler of Moab Capital Partners.

Deej

7 Comments – Post Your Own

#1) On June 18, 2010 at 12:31 PM, NoMulesFool (74.52) wrote:

Excellent stuff Deej. Thanks.

 John 

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#2) On June 18, 2010 at 12:50 PM, TMFDeej (99.24) wrote:

Thanks No Mules.  I really like this one.  This is the first idea in a while, other than that debt position that I made a cryptic reference to that I am seriously eventually putting real money into.  

It's got everything that I like, it's cheap, it has a high yield, and it has free embedded call options that can lead to significant future appreciation.

Deej 

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#3) On June 18, 2010 at 1:49 PM, JakilaTheHun (99.93) wrote:

GOV might be a good investment, depending on what you are looking for.  Most of the REIT sector is still probably underpriced and this will be realized over time.  It's also a safe investment, due to the low/no leverage.  

If you're looking for low risk, buying GOV is probably better than buying treasuries or low-yielding bonds, in my view. 

That said:

 

What is one of the main problem with the REIT sector?  The high debt level that many of the companies that operate in that sector maintain. 

I'd be a bit contrarian on that and suggest that debt levels need to be moderate to high, otherwise, you're not going to earn much of a return.  Real estate should appreciate about 3% per year in a normal market (which we haven't had in over a decade).  That's a crappy return.  Unless you're simply looking for an inflation hedge or a very conservative/low-yielding investment vehicle, unleveraged real estate is lousy.  

Quality companies with moderate leverage are ideal in a normal operating environment, IMO.  Great companies with moderately high to high leverage can be good plays, too.

 

One doesn't have to look any farther than the recently well publicized problems that the mall giant General Growth Properties went through and its subsequent filing for bankruptcy to see that a real-estate crash, high debt levels, and REITs don't go well together.

General Growth's problem was more than leverage.  It had more to do with (a) poor liquidity and (b) reckless capital spending.  Oftentimes, GGP's CapEx was twice as much as its operating cash flows.  That's ridiculous!  They were too ambitious, too aggressive, and too greedy.  But I don't think their leverage would've been a much problem if they had managed their working capital and capex better.  

My second best stock buy this year was a highly leveraged REIT: Glimcher Realty Trust (GRT).  Everyone was scared off by the leverage, as a lot of the moderately-leveraged REITs had already recovered significantly when GRT was still in the gutter.  I did not see the leverage as a huge issue given their cash flows and the quality of their properties.  

Another thing to keep in mind on leverage --- it's not an easy thing to quantify with REITs, due to the backwards accounting. A REIT which has a very high average property age might appear to have high leverage on paper, but in reality, their leverage might be much more moderate.

 

 

But like I said ... GOV might be alright.  I'd be buying in more for price appreciation than dividend yield, but the dividend yield is definitely a great bonus.  It also does seem rather high given their lack of leverage, which might be an indication that the stock price needs to move upwards till it falls down under 4% - 5%.  

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#4) On June 18, 2010 at 2:09 PM, TMFDeej (99.24) wrote:

Thanks for sharing your thoughts Jakila.  I remember that you follow this sector closely.

I know that leverage is part and parcel for REITs, but one can't argue that General Growth wouldn't have had to file for BK if it hadn't been so highly levered.

You did a good job at seeing the huge returns that were available when everyone fled the most levered REITs.  I guess that I'm just not that brave in my real portfolio.  

GOV seems like the best of both worlds to me.  A 6% yield on anything is really good right now and it should increase, along with the share price, as the company's leverage increases.  If I ultimately become uncomfortable with the company's level of debt, I can always sell at some point down the road, hopefully realizing gains and a nice divvy along the way.

Deej 

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#5) On June 18, 2010 at 2:58 PM, TMFHelical (99.12) wrote:

Deej,

I owned HRP for a time, and sold for a profit, but not near its top.  One reason for my selling was the announced GOV spinout, as this nice stable segment  of the prior REIT was part of the reason for owning it.  I had a mental note to follow up on GOV post spin-out, but didn't do so.  After all, Government rarely goes out of business, or (sadly) seems to be that value oriented, so they make for good tenants.

But, there is a hesitation as well.  The management group has a reputation for being self serving and not entirely shareholder friendly.  Here is a recent related post.

http://boards.fool.com/Message.asp?mid=28575395&sort=whole#28577299

TMFHelical

Home Coverage Fool

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#6) On June 18, 2010 at 5:34 PM, TMFDeej (99.24) wrote:

Thanks for the link Helical.  I'll definitely check it out.

Have a great weekend.

Deej 

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#7) On October 21, 2010 at 1:53 AM, johnping (< 20) wrote:

In my comphersion that article has A grade them reflect about Debtt free.

 

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john

 Debt Ratio

 

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