Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Ladder Capital: Internally Managed mREIT, No CRE CLO Debt

In the previous post I sung the praises of the use of non-recourse secured debt for Colony Capital (CLNY), here I'm going to do the same but for the use of unsecured/non-CLO debt at Ladder Capital (LADR), a commercial credit/mortgage REIT with an $830MM market cap.  Ladder has been punished alongside their commercial mREIT peers and currently trades at approximately 50% of 12/31 book value (which will almost certainly will come down), the recovery won't be overnight, but Ladder is well positioned to survive the corona crisis and provides a safer (not safe) way to play the rebound in the mortgage REITs for the following reasons:
  1. Ladder is an internally managed REIT with significant insider ownership and management seems to run the company as owners versus as a fee revenue stream.
  2. Senior secured portfolio -- in particular their CMBS portfolio is predominantly AAA (which the Fed recently announced is eligible for TALF financing) versus many of their peers who play in the BBB to B space and have had trouble with margin calls.
  3. Unsecured and term repurchase financing gives Ladder the opportunity to work with their borrowers on modifications without getting cash flows shut off like they would in a CRE CLO or face margin calls as they would in short term repo.
Quick overview of Ladder Capital, they were founded shortly following the last market crisis in 2009 (and listed in 2014) by the former UBS real estate team, that team is still largely together today and as a group own 11% of the company.  Ladder primarily plays in four areas of CRE finance: 1) transitional whole loans held for investment; 2) stabilized whole loans to be sold into CMBS (hopefully recognizing a gain on sale); 3) CMBS held for investment; 4) single tenant net lease properties; and then they do have a small sleeve of other operational properties partially the result of any foreclosures on the whole loan portfolio.  They portray themselves as having a strong credit culture and that seems to have played out in the last several years, prior to the coronavirus crisis, they've only had one realized loss on a loan, and unlike other mortgage REITs they don't have any legacy issues or at least don't play the trick of segmenting a core and legacy portfolio when things don't go as planned.

Roughly half of their assets fall into the first and second category, commercial real estate loans that Ladder originates themselves either on transitional properties (meaning a developer is re-positioning the property in some way) for their own balance sheet or on stabilized properties which Ladder will originate to distribute via the CMBS market.  Many if not most of the transitional variety will require some kind of forbearance or modification, construction crews may or might not be working, and certainly any up leasing activity or the time to rent stabilization where the property could be refinanced with longer term financing is pushed out.  The CMBS conduit market is already showing early signs of thawing, and on their Q4 call, Ladder mentioned having a fairly small amount of loans "trapped" in their warehouse awaiting to be sold into the CMBS market.  Here's their slide on their loan portfolio as of January:
As you can see, about 25% of the portfolio is exposed to the highest risk retail and hospitality sectors.  Given their middle market lean, the hospitality portfolio tends to be more weighted towards self service than convention hotels or resort destinations that may take longer to recover.  I tend to think most of these mortgage REITs have similar assets, capital is a bit of a commodity, but possibly Ladder is more conservative than some others.

The right side of the balance sheet is where I think Ladder is more interesting than others -- many commercial mREITs finance their transitional loan portfolios through CRE collateralized loan obligations ("CRE CLOs") where the loans are pledged to an off balance sheet SPV which then issues notes to fund the SPV's purchase of the loans.  The notes will be issued in various tranches depending on investor risk tolerance with the sponsor (the mREIT) of the CLO retaining the junior bonds and equity.  If the underlying collateral doesn't perform, there are asset coverage tests in place to divert cash flows from the junior note holders to pay the senior note holders and protect their position in the transaction.  In the years following the financial crisis, the asset coverage test thresholds are paper thin to the point where one or two modified loans in the portfolio will trip the diversion of cash flows away from the mREIT to pay down the senior note holders.  In practice, what often happens is if one of the underlying loans is in default or requires modification, the mREIT will purchase the loan from the CLO at face value and work it out off to the side as to not jeopardize their cash flow lower down the payment waterfall.  However, in the current environment where there will be many defaulted or modified loans, it might be difficult or just not possible due to margin calls elsewhere in an mREIT's balance sheet to purchase the non-performing loans from the CLO and thus shutting off cash flows.

Ladder had previously issued two CRE CLOs but wound those vehicles up in October and is currently out of that market.  Instead, Ladders funds its loans through a combination of unsecured bonds where they are a BB credit and through term repurchase facilities.  In their term repurchase facilities, they've always stressed in their filings that they've always kept a cushion available to allow them to meet margin calls in a cashless manner.  Neither have the feature of a CLO where cash flow of the underlying assets is completely shut off and may allow Ladder some breathing room in working through modifications with borrowers.  Here's from p74 of the 10-K, they've received margin calls and met them thus far (at least what's been disclosed), many mREITs tout their total available credit capacity but I think that's less meaningful than the borrowing capacity on their currently pledged assets.
Committed Loan Facilities
We are parties to multiple committed loan repurchase agreement facilities, totaling $1.8 billion of credit capacity. As of December 31, 2019, the Company had $702.3 million of borrowings outstanding, with an additional $1.0 billion of committed financing available. Assets pledged as collateral under these facilities are generally limited to first mortgage whole mortgage loans, mezzanine loans and certain interests in such first mortgage and mezzanine loans. Our repurchase facilities include covenants covering net worth requirements, minimum liquidity levels, and maximum debt/equity ratios.
We have the option to extend some of our existing facilities subject to a number of customary conditions. The lenders have sole discretion with respect to the inclusion of collateral in these facilities, to determine the market value of the collateral on a daily basis, and, if the estimated market value of the included collateral declines, the lenders have the right to require additional collateral or a full and/or partial repayment of the facilities (margin call), sufficient to rebalance the facilities. Typically, the lender establishes a maximum percentage of the collateral asset’s market value that can be borrowed. We often borrow at a lower percentage of the collateral asset’s value than the maximum leaving us with excess borrowing capacity that can be drawn upon at a later date and/or applied against future margin calls so that they can be satisfied on a cashless basis.
Committed Securities Repurchase Facility
We are a party to a term master repurchase agreement with a major U.S. banking institution for CMBS, totaling $400.0 million of credit capacity. As we do in the case of borrowings under committed loan facilities, we often borrow at a lower percentage of the collateral asset’s value than the maximum leaving us with excess borrowing capacity that can be drawn upon a later date and/or applied against future margin calls so that they can be satisfied on a cashless basis. As of December 31, 2019, the Company had $42.8 million borrowings outstanding, with an additional $357.2 million of committed financing available.
Uncommitted Securities Repurchase Facilities
We are party to multiple master repurchase agreements with several counterparties to finance our investments in CMBS and U.S. Agency Securities. The securities that served as collateral for these borrowings are highly liquid and marketable assets that are typically of relatively short duration. As we do in the case of other secured borrowings, we often borrow at a lower percentage of the collateral asset’s value than the maximum leaving us with excess borrowing capacity that can be drawn upon a later date and/or applied against future margin calls so that they can be satisfied on a cashless basis.
The other issue many mREITs are having is with their CMBS portfolios, mREITs like XAN or CLNC tend to buy CMBS in the BBB-B rating range or simply unrated, Ladder is predominately in the AAA and AA rated tranches of CMBS and as a result have significant credit enhancement via subordination.  While the pricing of AAA CMBS did drop, the Fed recently announced an expansion of the TALF program in which they'll provide financing on AAA CMBS issued prior to 3/23/2020.  In a bit of a departure from the other assets classes they're willing to finance, CMBS will only be legacy versus only new issuance.  I take this two different ways, 1) the Fed wants to stabilize CMBS prices today; 2) they're not concerned with needing to provide support for new issuance to resume like they are in other ABS markets.  Both are good for Ladder as a CMBS investor and as a loan originator to the CMBS market and it seems to be having its intended result, take the iShares CMBS ETF for example (tracks investment grade CMBS), it has recovered its losses and is up on the year.

Since I started drafting this post, Ladder put out an additional "business update" press release that is becoming all to regular for public companies these days.  In it they outline how they have $600MM of cash after some maturities on their loan portfolio plus they sold assets at 96 cents on the dollar and they have $2.3B of unencumbered assets.  Should be sufficient to get them through the crisis?  The dividend is roughly 20% at $1.34/year, that'll almost certainly get cut/suspended and could provide an attractive opportunity if any remaining yield pigs remain holders.  I like the management here and think we will see most if not all CRE CLOs fail their coverage tests (might be more opportunities once that happens), my sense is Ladder should trade for somewhere in the 75-80% of 12/31 book value range, no science behind it, but I see little risk that they'll be forced to liquidate at fire sale prices or have their cash flows shut off due to asset coverage test failures.

Disclosure: I own shares of LADR

Friday, April 10, 2020

Colony Capital: Preferred Stock, Non-Recourse Debt, Complex Mix of Assets

Colony Capital (CLNY) is a real estate private equity manager and real estate investment company that today fashions itself as a leader in the digital infrastructure sector.  However, it's mostly a complex mess of assets that have been left behind as the company has pivoted strategic directions several times, only to reclassify the old businesses as "legacy" hoping investors forget about them.  But the complexity and random assortment of assets might be beneficial to company today as its not reliant on one asset type (i.e., agency mortgages) or one funding source (i.e., repo agreements) that could subject the company to repeated margin calls and put them out of business completely.  The common stock might be worthwhile as a call option, but due to that complexity, I have a hard time valuing it in any credible way I'm willing to share, instead, the preferred stock seems cheap based on the unencumbered assets and is unlikely to be impaired through this crisis.

CLNY is the creation of Tom Barrack, he's a long time real estate investor and close friend of Donald Trump who is known for speaking at the 2016 Republican National Convention and more recently writing a blog post asking for a bailout of the commercial mortgage market.  Commercial mortgage REITs have recovered quite a bit in the last week or so, but prior to that they were hit with margin calls as the value of their CMBS assets fell and started a chain reaction of forced selling creating more forced selling as prices dropped.  CLNY is not a mortgage REIT, but is the external manager for one in Colony Credit Real Estate (CLNC) and CLNY owns 36% of CLNC's equity, but CLNY and its preferred stock declined alongside the commercial mREITs anyway.

CLNY's current strategy is to "focus on building the leading digital real estate provider and funding source for the occupancy, infrastructure, equity and credit needs of the world's mobile communications and data-driven companies."  They started down this path last July by purchasing Digital Bridge Holdings, a private equity firm that managed six separately capitalized digit real estate companies and a $4B fund it co-raised with CLNY, Digital Colony Partners Fund (which recently acquired ZAYO).  Along with Digital Bridge came a new management team that is slated to take over CLNY on 7/1 and move Tom Barrack to Executive Chairman.  This might be the right strategy, the tower and data storage REITs all trade at rich valuations, if CLNY can fully pivot maybe they'll get some of the benefit of that premium, but most of the value here is in the legacy assets.

Let's start with CLNY's capital structure as of 12/31/19:
CLNY's Q4 Supplemental
CLNY has a fair amount of liquidity following the sale of their light industrial warehouse assets to Blackstone in December and the sale of their equity interest in RXR Realty in February, leaving them with $520MM in cash as of the end of February, plus their undrawn credit facility.  All but $931MM of debt is non-recourse, and then a portion of the non-recourse debt is third party that CLNY consolidates on their balance sheet.

Their main assets are majority interests in two large portfolios (essentially REITs in their own right), one in an assortment of healthcare assets (but mostly senior housing and skilled nursing) and the other in select-service and extended stay hotels with brands associated with either Hilton or Marriott.  Both asset sleeves refinanced their debt in 2019 and pushed out maturities to 2024 and 2026, I haven't spent much time on the covenants, but the debt is non-recourse and under a worst case scenario, CLNY could mail back the keys to the lenders.  In hospitality, I do tend to think extended stay is performing better than other segments (still long some STAY) as its more of a residential replacement than true travel and then select service might recover sooner than destination resorts or convention heavy locations.  But again, non-recourse, a blow up in either or both would be a scary headline but wouldn't take down the entire enterprise, for the below, just going to assume both portfolios are zeroes.

The remaining assets are an interesting grab bag, cynically, it seems like CLNY was used as a way for Tom Barrack to invest with friends or in vanity projects whether it made sense for a public REIT or not:

1) Investment Management Business
When CLNY (originally CLNS) was formed in the three way merger with NSAM and NRF, I figured CLNY wanted to be the next Brookfield Asset Management (BAM), they would mostly be an asset management company and then would have "YieldCos" they would manage and partially own.  They've sort of done that, just not executed as well.  But with the acquisition of the digital business, they have a considerable management company arm that is essentially unencumbered and generates approximately $160MM a year in base fee revenue.
They have started down the path of internalizing the management at CLNC which they'll likely receive additional shares as consideration once the commercial mortgage market settles down a bit.  If you put a 35% margin on $160MM and give it a 10x multiple (just a swag), that's a $560MM business plus the non-wholly owned management companies listed above.  One of which is an interesting venture with Sam Zell (partnering with friends, not sure it fits in a public REIT vehicle), Alpine Energy, that is investing in distressed oil and gas like California Resources (CRC).  As mentioned earlier, they also monetized their investment in RXR Realty for $179MM, which implies a similar valuation I'm placing on the four wholly owned segments.

2) Colony Credit Real Estate (CLNC)
CLNC is mostly a commercial mortgage REIT but does own some net lease properties and other assets, it's suffered like the rest of the sector, but has generally limited CMBS exposure at under 7% of assets, recently closed a CRE CLO which termed out much of its debt, and has been current thus far on any margin calls.  Interestingly, I've only seen margin calls on RMBS or CMBS and not whole loans, whole loans are likely harder to price or more negotiable, might be worth focusing on mREITs with more whole loan exposure than to securitized products.
At Thursday's ~$5 close, CLNC has a market cap of approximately $665MM, trading at about 30% of the last reported book value (likely coming down).  But a 36% ownership at today's depressed prices is still worth $240MM to CLNY, plus the management fee contract but we're including that in the investment management business above.  They do account for their stake in CLNC via the equity method, so its grossly overstated at the moment compared to CLNC's market value, meaning an accounting impairment is likely on the way.  CLNY's long term plan with CLNC is to sell their position down over time once it is trading more inline with book value.  CLNC is interesting in its own right and might deserve a separate post, but for the purposes of CLNY let's say it survives and leave it here.

2) Other equity and debt portfolio
Here's the grab bag of other assets that includes some directly held real estate (sometimes the result of a foreclosure), their $186MM investment in DataBank which is one of the six companies that Digital Bridge manages, a stake in Albertson's which might be one of the few large companies to conduct an IPO this year (can't think of a better year for a grocery store to come public again), and all their co-investments in institutional funds they manage.


This sleeve is valued at $1.8B on the balance sheet and CLNY pre-corona intended to monetize $300-$500MM of assets this year.  That'll likely change, but even putting a significant haircut on the assets, let's say they're worth 30% less in this environment, making the net equity worth ~$900MM, that's probably overly punitive as a lot of this is at cost in their financials, but the exercise is to see how much value is left for the preferred assuming an extended crisis.

This modified SOTP is too severe, but just illustrating that I think the preferred stock is still money-good versus a trading price in the $16-17 range.
At Thursday's close, you also have about $1.2B in CLNY market cap beneath the preferred shares.  There are plenty of investment opportunities with more juice but here you don't have to worry about how much of the portfolio has been liquidated due to repo margin calls.  The preferred stock (there are 4 series, generally the same, some more liquid than others) has about 50% upside to $25 plus any dividends collected along the way as we wait for things to normalize.

Disclosure: I own shares of CLNY Preferred Series G

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Watchlist: GLPI and Penn National Gaming

There are a number of interesting situations and potential bargains out in the markets today, I typically don't write on companies where I don't own the shares, but for the next few months (however long we're all stuck at home) I might try to push out a few more posts on ideas where I've done some work on but don't own for one reason or another (limited cash), but want to be ready to take advantage of further declines.

One such situation is Gaming and Leisure Properties Inc (GLPI) which is the 2013 REIT spin of Penn National Gaming (PENN), PENN is now the largest operator of regional casinos in the United States and rents most of their properties from GLPI, they're still attached at the hip 7 years later.  GLPI was the first of the triple-net lease gaming REITs that now also includes VICI Properties (VICI) and MGM Growth Properties (MGP); GLPI owns the real estate of 40+ casinos and leases them back to casino operators who pay all the maintenance, taxes, insurance and other property level costs of the property.  The leases are typically structured as master leases and are functionally senior to the traditional debt as their physical casinos are critical to the operation of the business (although mobile will increase in share going forward).  In addition to the triple-net lease business, GLPI owns and operates two casinos due to tax rules at the time of the spin requiring an active business, one in Louisiana and the other in Maryland, both under PENN's Hollywood brand.  Their leases are primarily with PENN, around 80%, they did previously diversify by doing a PropCo/OpCo transaction with Pinnacle Entertainment (PNK) in 2016, but PENN ended up buying PNK in 2018 causing GLPI's tenant concentration to revert back.  GLPI also has Elderado (ERI) as a tenant from when GLPI paired with ERI in the acquisition of Tropicana Entertainment (TPCA), Boyd Gaming (BYD) due to forced divestitures from the PNK tie-up, and Casino Queen (smaller distressed player) on the rent roll.

Obviously, Penn National is in a considerable amount of distress with coronavirus and social distancing, they have closed all of their casinos and furloughed much of their employee base for an indefinite amount of time.  PENN is highly levered, their annual rent is significant at ~$900MM/ year (plus another $105MM in interest on regular debt), with $820MM of that going to GLPI, PENN is current on rent through the April payment, but would be unable to manage through this crisis without some forbearance or risk being restructured which would be disastrous for both GLPI and PENN.  This past Friday, GLPI and PENN entered into a unique transaction:
  • PENN will be free delivering the Tropicana Las Vegas property and operations to GLPI, plus the land under their Hollywood Morgantown development that is scheduled to open around year end for $337MM in credits to be applied to the May, June, July, August, October, and a partial payment towards their November rent.
  • PENN will then lease back the Tropicana Las Vegas from GLPI for $1/year and continue to run the operations and maintain the property.
  • GLPI will engage in a sale process over the next 2 years to sell both the real estate and operations of the Tropicana Las Vegas in order to recoup the rent credits.  $307MM of the $337MM in rent credit is to be assigned to the Tropicana. If the property sells for more than $307MM then the excess would be split with PENN, 25% of the excess would go to GLPI if it sold in the first 12 months, and there would be a 50/50 split in year two, beyond year 2 GLPI would get 100%.  PENN had been rumored to have gotten inbound bids in the $700MM range as recently as this past January for the property, but those buyers are likely long gone.  PENN did purchase the Tropicana for $360MM in 2015 providing some assurance that the property is worth more than the rent credit GLPI is receiving (assuming Vegas isn't permanently impaired by the coronavirus).
  • PENN additionally agreed to exercise their 5 year extensions on their master leases and entered into an option to purchase the operations in 2021 of one of GLPI's owned and operated casino, Hollywood Perryville (MD), for $31MM and enter into a $7.8MM annual lease for the property.
No one will confuse the Tropicana with a high end casino like the Wynn or Bellagio, but it is 35 acres and over 1400 rooms on one of the busiest corners on the strip.  Another tired casino in much worse location, Circus Circus, was just purchased for $825MM by Phil Ruffin in January.  Again, the world has changed, but if things return to any reasonable normalcy, GLPI should eventually get their deferred rent paid via the sale of the Tropicana.  And then PENN gains itself some breathing room with the rent credits at least into the fall, if they can open up the majority of their casinos sometime in the summer, they're likely to survive, if social distancing lasts deep into the third quarter or early fourth quarter it is likely game over.  PENN might be able to raise additional cash by selling their distributed gaming business or other non-casino related assets, but following moving the Tropicana over to GLPI, essentially all their properties are leased.

But how does GLPI itself navigate the remainder of 2020?  GLPI has $5.7B of debt and pays out approximately $600MM in annual dividends to shareholders.  Below is a quick analysis on GLPI's liquidity and ability to pay their dividend.  Both Boyd and Elderado (at least pre-CZR deal) have a stronger liquidity position than PENN, but let's assume both receive similar rent forbearance arrangements and then GLPI's operating casinos are a net cash drag on the year.
As always, I'm sure I've made a few mistakes in the above, so feel free to pick it apart, but it appears that GLPI could be in a position to continue its $2.80/share dividend, which is an 11% yield at today's $25/share price. 

A lot depends on when PENN can reopen their casinos and how receptive people are to returning to gambling following both a health crisis and for many people an economic one.  Regional casinos like PENN's might hold up better than destination ones as they rely on regular customers and focus on slot machines (~93% of their gambling revenue) versus convention business travelers or high rollers.  PENN is also making an aggressive move into sports gambling with their $163MM investment for a 36% stake in sports and pop culture media company Barstool Sports in February.  Barstool has an army of loyal followers, they're truly marketing experts, and Barstool personalities pumped up the stock in the weeks following the acquisition and before coronavirus realities set in for the company.  The plan is to rebrand PENN's sports betting operation to Barstool and launch an online sports betting app, where legal, in August ahead of the NFL season.  With sports essentially cancelled for the near term, that's another blow to PENN's plans, any delay to the NFL season would be particularly painful given their investment in Barstool.

Back to GLPI, original 2020 guidance was for $1.05B in EBITDA on about an $11B enterprise value, or 10.5x, in simpler times these gaming REITs trade at 13-15x EBITDA, 14x a normalized 2021 EBITDA would make GLPI a ~$42 stock versus $25 today.  In a dream scenario, there might be an extra $1/share in the Tropicana if sold for $700MM in year two, but that feels unlikely today.  There are certainly stocks with higher upside in this market, but once the smoke clears on PENN's casinos reopening, GLPI should re-rate pretty quickly once the disaster scenario of getting the keys in the mail is off the table.  Whereas PENN clearly has more upside, but may take longer and is more exposed to how quickly the economy recovers.  Why don't I own GLPI or PENN?  Not 100% confident the dividend remains at GLPI, if its cut, might actually be the buying opportunity as other investors sell if you believe in the long term durability of their leases.  Others thoughts welcome.

Disclosure: No current position as of posting

Thursday, March 26, 2020

What I've Been Buying, Coronavirus Edition

I hope everyone is staying safe and healthy, but if you're interested, here are some thoughts on a few current positions where I've added in recent weeks, some I've bought above where we're trading today, some below.  I probably started averaging down in some of these too soon, eaten some humble pie and have slowed my activity down significantly.  I assume we'll have more opportunities as it'll take awhile for the new economic reality to work its way through our system, credit agreements will need to be amended, etc.  There will be pot holes and bankruptcies, one change from recent years is we're likely to start to see bankruptcy reorgs that are the "good business, bad balance sheet" type that have been rare lately.  Things will likely get worse, so treat this more as a watchlist than a buylist.

Howard Hughes Corporation (HHC)
I'm a long time HHC bull, my pride is hurting here at the moment, 4 of 5 of HHC's primary markets have significant near term challenges: 1) NYC is front and center of the pandemic in the U.S., likely further pushing back (I've lost count how many times now) the stabilization date of the Seaport development; 2) Houston is dealing with yet another crash in oil prices just weeks after HHC made what they describe as the "largest acquisition in the company's history" by buying Occidental Petroleum's office buildings; 3) Nevada casinos are closed indefinitely, that will have its ripple effects through the Las Vegas service based economy and slowing the development of Summerlin; 4) Similarly but maybe less impacted, Honolulu will see significantly less tourism in 2020 than it did 2019, but more importantly a fall in financial markets doesn't lead to more wealthy people purchasing vacation beach condos.  Only Columbia, MD is mostly spared due to its connection to government services jobs.

The stock has bounced back slightly, but for a while there was trading below $40 which is where it was following the spin-off from GGP almost a decade ago, I was able to add a bit there, but still find the shares incredible cheap around $50.  In early 2019, I pegged the value of the land at ~$2.35B after subtracting out land level debt using a straight line NPV approach with a 10% discount rate, sure the near term sales might be low, but the nature of raw land is long term and Nevada and Texas remain attractive states for corporate relocations due to low/no taxes and friendly regulations.  HHC has $1B in corporate level debt, so just the land portfolio is worth ~$1.35B or about $35/share, obviously this is a somewhat silly back of the envelope valuation exercise that doesn't include overhead, etc.  But sort of thinking about what has happened since the spin-off a decade ago, HHC lays out the development activity in aggregate since then in their 10-K:
We have completed the development of over 5.2 million square feet of office and retail operating properties, 2,516 multi-family units and 909 hospitality keys since 2011. Excluding land which we own, we have invested approximately $2.0 billion in these developments, which is projected to generate a 9.5% yield on cost, or $192.7 million per year of NOI upon stabilization. At today’s market cap rates, this implies value creation to our shareholders in excess of $1.0 billion. Our investment of approximately $444.9 million of cash equity in our development projects since inception, which is computed as total costs excluding land less the related construction debt, is projected to generate a 25.5% return on cash equity assuming a 5.0% cost of debt, which approximates our weighted-average cost. These investments and returns exclude condominium development as well as projects under construction such as the Seaport District. We exclude condominium developments since they do not result in recurring NOI, and we exclude projects under development due to the wider range of NOI they are expected to generate upon stabilization. In Ward Village, we have either opened or have under construction 2,697 condominium units, which have approximately 89.8% units sold as of December 31, 2019 at a targeted profit margin, excluding land costs, of 23.6% or $747.3 million.
If we go back to 2015 and early 2016 when oil collapsed from around $100, there was a lot of anxiety about Houston office space and HHC dropped from ~$150 to ~$80 in a few months, but in the aftermath of the drop, HHC's Woodlands sub-market performed fairly well, their last speculatively built office property (Three Hughes Landing) still hasn't reached stabilization 4 years later, but the bottom didn't fall out either.  Not to directly compare the two time periods, this oil route seems worse for U.S. producers as it coincides with a demand shock due to coronavirus, but Houston is a major metropolitan market (it's not say, Midland TX or OKC) and the economy will evolve over time.  The Occidental office property buy certainly looks like unfortunate timing, but the bulk of the purchase is centered in the Woodlands giving them additional control over the sub-market, the Houston Energy Corridor former OXY campus was only ~10% of the purchase price and not a significant drag if they can't sell it in a year or three.  OXY's equity is certainly in question, the company signed a 13 year sale leaseback with HHC when the transaction happened, but even a reorged OXY will need office space, and HHC recently leased some empty space in the second office tower in the Woodlands to OXY's midstream company, WES.  HHC is taking a portion of the remaining space for themselves as they move their corporate headquarters to Houston, so in reality, there isn't a lot of current vacancy in HHC's Houston offie portfolio.

I'm less worried about Ward Village in Honolulu or Summerlin in Las Vegas, Summerlin is likely to have a terrible year, coronavirus feels temporary to me when you take a longer view, whereas domestic oil production might not be viable for many years.  The Seaport has always been a bit of a clown show, it was former management's pet project, there might be more willingness now to part with it for a reasonable offer that eliminates much of the risk/earnings volatility from HHC results.

Par Pacific Holdings (PARR)
Similarly, owning a refining business is tough here, if we just had the supply shock due to the OPEC+ breakup then refiners might be sitting pretty with cheap crude and strong gasoline demand, but with everyone staying in their homes and not commuting to work or traveling, gasoline and jet fuel demand have dropped almost as much as hotel occupancy.

Quick recap, Par Pacific is part of Sam Zell's empire, he doesn't technically control the company or sit on the board, but he owns a significant stake and the PARR management team is made up of former members of his family office - Equity Investments.  Over the last several years they've bulked up their operation to include three refineries, related logistics and a growing retail presence, focusing on niche/isolated markets.  Following a small tuck-in acquisition, they're the only refining presence in Hawaii and thus exposed to their tourism market via jet fuel sales.  They've got a turnaround scheduled for later this year in Hawaii which could be a blessing in disguise as it takes supply offline in that market just when there is a lack of demand.  But in a normalized year, Par Pacific should have a current run rate of approximately $225-250MM (after the next 12 months, PARR won't have a scheduled turnaround for several years), below is the breakdown of EBITDA between their business lines and sort of a reasonable, more rational market multiple for each.  It could take us a while to get there, but management on their last call (guessing there will be a lot of cringing across many management teams when they play back their comments on Q4 earnings calls) said that PARR is "today" a $3/share free cash flow business.  Obviously it won't be this year, but that's how the owners/managers of the business think of the earnings power.
It currently trades for $7-8/share, so that looks like a silly price and maybe it is because things are really different this time.  PARR also has ~$1.5B in NOLs that should shield it from ever paying cash taxes in the foreseeable future (not that it'll be an issue this year) and a stake in a natural gas E&P, Laramie Energy, but I mentally wrote off that investment a long time ago.  Given the natural gas price environment, Laramie has no active rigs, is reportedly cash flow positive and won't require additional investment from PARR to keep it a going concern, so we can sort of sidecar it.

PARR is a small cap and thus only has a relatively short term option chain with the latest expiration being in September.  Moving up market cap, Marathon Petroleum (MPC) is a similarly constructed downstream business with refining, midstream and retail operations that has January 2022 LEAPs available.  Marathon has been under pressure from activist investor Elliott Management to abandon their conglomerate structure and separate into three businesses: 1) retail (which operates the Speedway brand of gas stations/convenience stores); 2) midstream (which is publicly traded as MPLX, MPC owns 63% of MPLX and owns the general partner); 3) and the remaining refining operations.  The company recently rejected the idea of converting MPLX into a C-Corp and spinning MPC's MPLX units out to investors, but they are still committed to separating the Speedway retail business off by year end.  Convenience store 7-Eleven's owners, Seven & i Holdings, recently scrapped a deal to buy Speedway for $22B citing coronavirus and valuation concerns.  If you assume a $15B valuation for Speedway and back out the MPLX shares and consolidated debt, the remaining refining business is something like a $9B EV (with no value given to the MPLX GP) for a ~$5B EBITDA business in normal times.  There's also reason to believe (well maybe) that MPLX is undervalued as well as they're exploring selling their gathering and processing business segment for $15B which represents 1/3 of EBITDA.  The EV of MPLX is ~$34B, and the remaining logistics and storage business should fetch a considerably higher multiple.  I threw some speculative money at out of the money calls, maybe by early 2022 the world is a little more sane, until then I don't really plan on following the day-to-day swings in MPC's share price.

Five Star Senior Living (FVE)
Five Star is debt free (besides a small mortgage on the owned facilities), has a significant net cash position for its size and receives what should be a reliable management fee off of revenue.  Even if we do see small changes in occupancy (for morbid corona related reasons), FVE isn't as exposed to the high fixed cost structure of owning the senior living properties or leasing them.  FVE shares are trading below where they sold off when it was dumped following the distribution to DHC shareholders.  While there is certainly some operational or reputation risk associated with operating senior living facilities during such a high-risk time for the elderly, if Five Star can avoid a Kirkland WA style outbreak, their business should be positioned well and is extremely cheap.  We're still dealing with swag proforma estimates from management as the new structure is only a few months old, but at the EBITDA midpoint of $25MM, that should generate somewhere in the neighborhood of $14MM in FCF for about a 6.4x multiple at the current price of $3, plus you get the owned real estate and $30+ million of cash on a $90MM market cap company.

Wyndham Hotels & Resorts (WH)
Wyndham Hotels generates sales primarily on franchise fees based on hotel revenues (93% of their business) compared to their upscale hotel brand peers like Marriott (MAR) or Hilton (HLT) which have significant hotel management businesses where they get paid a percentage of hotel level profits and employ the workforce.  During good times, the management company model is better but during bad/terrible, I'd rather have the franchise model, hotel revenues will certainly be a fraction of what they were last year, but they won't be negative like profits.  Wyndham's typical hotel is an economy or midscale hotel with limited business or convention business and less reliance on food & beverage -- convention/conference business might take a while to recover as people stay cautious on large events, and if business travel does pick back up, maybe business travelers move down in hotel segment for a period of time.  Additionally, the typical Wyndham branded hotel owner is a mom or pop who owns just the one hotel, they likely got their financing from a local bank or the SBA who might be more willing to work with them on amendments/forbearance versus a large syndicate of lenders like the larger lodging REITs.  They do have a financial covenant of 5x EBITDA that is at risk, maybe other credit folks could chime in here, but I imagine by the time the TTM month EBITDA trips that covenant we might be back on the other side and WH could work with their creditors.  I did buy a little bit of shares, but also calls as to limit my downside if things do go south with their balance sheet.

My watchlist - quick blurbs, maybe turn into full posts if I buy:
  • Exantas Capital (XAN): This is the former Resource Capital (RSO) that I owned for a couple years after C-III took over the management, cut the dividend, and reorganized the assets to a cleaner mortgage REIT.  XAN funds its assets in two ways, one is through repurchase agreements and the other is through CRE CLOs.  CRE CLOs are term financing and not mark-to-market, however the repurchase facilities are mark-to-market and Exantas failed to meet margin calls on their CMBS portfolio this week, sending the preferred and common cratering.  I'm maybe too optimistic on the commercial real estate market (HHC bull) but I think a lot of these loans get amended and Exantas might find its way out of this mess, however it won't be without some pain.  The CRE CLOs might end up tripping their OC tests and shutting off cash flows to the junior notes and equity which is owned by Exantas, so I'm on the side lines for now.  Additionally, like most CRE CLOs, these are "transitional loans" meant to fund a development project, say renovate an apartment building and move it up market, something like that.  So if the market shuts down, the borrower might not be in a financial position to complete said project or refinance into longer term financing, sticking XAN with the exposure longer than expected.
  • iStar (STAR): I want to revisit another former holding in iStar, their SAFE ground lease business has grown far larger than I imagined (although likely very overvalued), taking SAFE at market value you could make a case that the legacy business that I originally liked is very cheap.  But they do have a CRE finance arm similar to XAN, but more concentrated on construction lending in major markets (NYC and Miami IIRC) that could be a problem.  Worth looking into given the SAFE stake and the management contract associated with SAFE.
  • NexPoint Residential Trust (NXRT):  Another former REIT holding of mine, this is one that sort of got away, I'll get the exact numbers wrong but it spun off from a closed end fund at ~$11 and I sold somewhere around $22, not too far from where it is trading today at $25, a few months ago it was $52.  I love the strategy, they acquire garden style Class B apartments in the sun belt, put a little money into them to move up market a touch, maybe "B+", this investment is very high return on invested capital and then they'll sell, recycle the funds and do it all over again.  Sure their tenant base might have some credit issues in the next year, but demographic trends are still in the sun belt's favor, working class people will need reasonably affordable housing in the future, supply is relatively constrained, and this management team (it is external) has proven they can execute on their strategy.
Disclosure: I own shares of HHC, PARR, FVE, WH (and calls) and MPC 2022 LEAPs

SciPlay: Fake Slots in a Casinoless World

I've averaged down on a few current positions (possibly too early and unwise), many of which carry debt, are exposed to customers leaving their houses and are thus down significantly.  But I also wanted to look for a company that might be thriving during this crisis, debt free and can take advantage of people having too much free time.  One such company is SciPlay (SCPL), which a reader asked me to look at in the comments section on my post on Accel Entertainment (I still own despite all bars and restaurants being take out only in Illinois).  I feel like a click bait author associating this idea (which is admittedly a little scummy and not without hair) with the "stay at home trade" but SciPlay should accelerate their already healthy growth rate in this environment with casinos closed for at least the next several weeks, potentially much longer.

SciPlay is a social casino gaming company that was IPO'd off of Scientific Games (SGMS), a major slot machine manufacturer and casino supplier, in May 2019 to reduce SGMS's heavy debt load.  Scientific Games still controls SciPlay with an 82% ownership stake in the operating entity (this is one of those ugly Up-C structures).  Social casino games are free-to-play simulations of slot machines where there isn't explicit gambling occurring but players can purchase virtual tokens to move the game along faster similar to other freemium style mobile games.  I downloaded one of their games and didn't understand it, but SciPlay has 8 million monthly users, however only 6% of those actually pay up for virtual tokens but those users are quite valuable, paying on average ~$88/month (!!) for these in-app purchases.  SciPlay pays a 30% revenue share to Apple, Google, Facebook and the like to be on their platforms, a dispute with any would be an issue, but otherwise this is a decent enough decent business that spits off a fair amount of cash.

The proceeds from the IPO (priced at $16) were used to pay a one-time upfront $255MM licensing fee to Scientific Games for their intellectual property library which allows SciPlay to develop new games in the future based on popular slot machine themes like James Bond or the Godfather that Scientific Games has a license for the rights.  Scientific Games and other slot machine manufactures have years of experience creating and cultivating addictive gameplay -- the "Scientific" part of the name seems almost nefarious to me -- that gameplay design can be fairly easily translated to a mobile device.  SciPlay currently has 7 games, the most popular and the one that makes up 40-50% of their revenue is Jackpot Party Casino, its a few years old now but does receive regular updates, there is some fatigue risk to their revenue but so far they've shown the ability to extend the game's life.  The one risk that remains a bit untested is how online/mobile gambling being rolled out impacts the social casino games, SciPlay claims in states like New Jersey where mobile gaming is legal they see no significant change in their customers behavior.  The explanation given -- social casino is more of a mindless time wasting exercise or a way to learn about slot machines versus a true gaming experience, not sure I totally buy it, but I do see people on my commuter train (when I wasn't holed up in my basement) playing social casino games on the train in the morning.  Doubt that would be the same activity if its actual slot machine mobile gaming with an 8% rake, but then again, maybe the time wasting crowd aren't the 6% of users that are paying.

The share count and market capitalization of the company often appear wrong on free sites due to the Up-C structure where the public company only owns 18% of the operating partnership with Scientific Games owning the other 82% economic stake directly in the operating partnership. SciPlay finished 2019 up with $110MM in cash and no debt, the company did $122MM of adjusted EBITDA in 2019 or $94 million in net income before the non-controlling interest allocation.  This represented EBITDA growth of 30% over 2018, let's dial back the growth rate a touch (although I wouldn't be surprised if they matched or exceed that) and say they do $150MM in EBITDA in 2020.  Keeping the same revenue base and converting an extra 1% of users from 6% to 7% paying users through this casinoless time would do it.
Even in a no growth environment, SCPL is trading at 7.8x TTM adjusted EBITDA (sorry if the price is stale by the time you read this), prior to the coronavirus market volatility, peers (ZNGA and GLUU) were trading at 14x 2021 EBITDA estimates, there's a big gap there between where 2021 EBITDA could be for SCPL and where the stock is trading today.

I bought a small amount, feeling a little guilty about the business model, but I'm not an ESG investor.

Other thoughts:
  • Scientific Games controls SciPlay, and Scientific Games is essentially controlled by Ron Perelman, I don't have any real thoughts about him but he's a semi-controversial investor to some.
  • Scientific Games might be forced to sell additional shares in SciPlay to keep it afloat through the crisis as SGMS is highly levered and I'm assuming if the casinos are closed, they're not buying new VGTs.
  • David Einhorn had a quick blurb in his Q2 2019 letter about owning SGMS partially because of its stake in SPCL, backing out the SPCL position and you can create the core SGMS very cheaply.  I like the idea in concept, but would rather just own the no debt growth company in this environment versus something that will rely on the kindness of creditors.  There is an argument that SGMS's stake in SPCL is unencumbered and could provide a floor to SGMS stock, I don't know if its possible for SGMS to go bankrupt and spin their SPCL shares to pre-bankruptcy shareholders, but if they could SGMS's stake in SPCL is worth about $9.25 of each SGMS share.
  • SciPlay wants to branch out into non-casino games like puzzles, also they're 90+% U.S. based revenue, fair amount of runway internationally if they can navigate regulatory environments.
  • Repeating the risks here: 1) impact of legalized mobile gaming; 2) SGMS overhang; 3) no-to-low barriers of entry for mobile games; 4) reliant on Apple, Google and Facebook to remain in their good graces and on their platforms; 5) revenue concentration with Jackpot Party Casino.
Disclosure: I own shares of SCPL

Monday, March 16, 2020

Madison Square Garden: MSGE Form 10, Corona Fears

Financial markets are in turmoil, it feels like a strange time to be writing anything new as lives are being drastically impacted, hope this doesn't come across as tone deaf, keep your families safe.  I don't normally talk about macro or have any thoughtful insights into how coronavirus and the oil route will play out over the near term, but over the long term I suspect it will subside, we'll get through it, adjust in some ways and life will eventually turn back to a new normal.  But how long will that take and which companies won't be able to weather the storm?  My portfolio is hurting, I've sold some things I didn't want to sell to raise cash, I certainly don't envy anyone who is managing other people's money in the current environment.  However, some opportunities are arising from the wreckage and forced liquidation we've seen over the past few weeks, one such company is Madison Square Garden (MSG) -- zero points for originality here -- most readers will have likely read a dozen similar pitches, but given the pace and depth of market sell-off, I don't think there is any reason to over-complicate things and I bought some recently.

For the uninitiated, MSG owns two premier sports franchises in New York City (NBA's Knicks and the NHL's Rangers) plus several arenas and entertainment venues where they host concerts, comedians and other live entertainment.  At the end of the month (guessing that'll slip with the market conditions), the company is planning on splitting off the sports teams ("MSGS") from the entertainment business ("MSGE").  The sports teams are relatively easy to value as Forbes does most of the heavy lifting in an annual publication of sports team values, we could argue if Forbes systematically under-prices where private transactions have occurred or if the stock should deserve a minority discount, but either way sports teams are a valuable scarce asset that should trade within a reasonable discount/premium of the Forbes valuation.  The tougher side to value will be MSG Entertainment, and given coronavirus fears with all events either cancelled or postponed for the time being, it could experience significant volatility once it starts trading (again, seems likely the spin will be postponed, but it'll happen eventually).  Not to downplay the virus risk with MSG, both sides of the company will experience significant revenue hits this year as the NBA and NHL seasons are suspended and no large scale entertainment events will be occurring for the foreseeable future.  However, the sports teams are trophy assets that should continue to hold their value and at current prices you're paying very little for the entertainment business that despite a few red flags does hold some interesting assets.  The company is controlled by James Dolan, the son of Cablevision founder Chuck Dolan, the family's business empire has gone through a series of M&A and spin-offs transactions, mostly value creating, it currently consists of voting control over MSG, MSG Networks (MSGN), and AMC Networks (AMCX).

MSG Sports (MSGS)
I'm going to make it pretty simple with the MSG Sports business, this will be the parent (originally this was the spin but the transaction has since been revised to a simpler structure), below is the current Forbes valuation for each team and I'm going to use a swag 20% discount to account for a minority ownership discount, corporate overhead and the new arena license agreement both teams will have with MSG Entertainment.
Most people are familiar with the sports team thesis, premier teams are relatively unique assets that are coveted by the ultra-wealthy and come with a lot of social status and tax benefits.  Plus, of course, sports have valuable media rights that content distributors will pay a premium for as its a must watch live viewing experience.  James Dolan is widely considered one of the worst owners in sports from a fan's perspective, over the past several years he's gotten into public spats with several Knick icons like Charles Oakley and Spike Lee more recently which haven't improved his image.  Fans chant "sell the team" at home games, not a great look.  But despite that, Dolan seems to have no intention of selling the teams or giving up majority control, so this does deserve some discount for minority rights and then just all the overhead, jets, potential taxes in a sale, etc.  Going forward, the current capital allocation plan is to return capital to shareholders, so this should be a fairly simple story to value and own.  And of course, if the Knicks ever return to being a winning team, there could be additional upside from playoff ticket revenue and associated sponsorship opportunities.

MSG Entertainment (MSGE)
The spin-off will be the entertainment company, this side of the business is more challenging to value as its probably best done as a mix of an NAV and an earnings based metric on some of their operating businesses, however the financial disclosures make this a challenge.  Not to be lazy, but at today's current price of ~$200 (could change wildly by the time you read this) for the combined company you're not paying much for the entertainment business so this will be light on hard numbers.  MSGE will consist of the following assets: 1) the Madison Square Garden arena itself and associated air rights (I'm skeptical of assigning value to the air rights, but if you think they're worth something, go ahead); 2) MSG Sphere under construction in Las Vegas; 3) the Forum in LA; 4) Chicago Theater; 5) Christmas Spectacular show featuring the Rocketts; 6) leases and operations of the Radio City Music Hall and Beacon Theater; 7) the events booking business at all their venues; 8) a controlling stake in Tao Hospitality; 7) and some smaller assets like a stake in Townsquare Media (TSQ) and festival promoter Boston Calling.

I tend to like these grab bag of assets that are hard to value spin-offs as they don't fit neatly into a valuation box which makes them hard to own for some investors.  This one has its own unique challenges obviously with the coronavirus halting near term operations, but could present a longer term opportunity, we still have Instagram, people want to be seen and be social, we'll still want to attend big live events when this passes.

The Garden
The company namesake property is located in Midtown Manhattan atop of Penn Station, the current structure dates back to 1968 and was heavily renovated in 2011-2013.  As part of the spin-off, both the Knicks and the Rangers entered into long term lease agreements with MSGE to remain at the Garden for the next 35 years.  The arena license is almost structured like a triple net lease, the sports teams will be responsible for the maintenance and property taxes associated with the arena, the Knicks will start out paying $22.5MM and the Rangers $16.7MM per year with a 3% annual escalator.  What cap rate would you place on that lease agreement?  I would think given the location, high investment grade tenants, where interest rates are today, that this would be valued a very low cap rate. In addition, MSGE will get a portion of the sports team's suite revenue, on-site advertising, concessions, etc.  This also doesn't include the non-sports booking business where the Garden regularly hosts premier music and comedy acts.  Putting a 4.5% cap rate on the arena license makes it worth ~$900MM, with the additional revenue and air rights, I think its reasonable to assume the Garden is worth somewhere between $1-1.5B.

MSG Sphere
The MSG Sphere is an outlandish live entertainment venue being built next to the Venetian hotel on the Las Vegas strip, the current projected cost is $1.66B (up considerably from where it was first discussed in 2018) with a goal to be open by the end of 2021.  It's a bit wild to think of building an arena for $1.66B without an anchor tenant, for example the T-Mobile Arena which is located between Park MGM and the New York New York casino, is the home of the Vegas Golden Knights (NHL franchise) and the Las Vegas home o't f UFC events and was built for only $375MM.  The $1.66B price tag ($268MM of that has already been spent) also doesn't include the content and expenses related to producing content for the Sphere.  This is essentially a bet the company type investment and management has been a bit cagey about estimated returns.  And the problem with cost overruns is they don't lead to additional revenue, so each time the costs go up, the returns likely go down.  MSG has been successful in the past (management likes to point this out when defending the Sphere) in renovating the Forum and turning it into a premier concert venue, but that was only a $100MM investment, this might end up being 20x that.

The basic premise to the Sphere is it will be a totally immersive experience unlike anything else (for that price tag it better be), concert promoter AEG has a deal with T-Mobile arena and it is likely that MSG will strike a deal with Live Nation (LYV) to promote concerts at the Sphere ensuring a steady stream of big shows.  When not hosting a touring act, the Sphere is intended to have proprietary content (riskier business than the license your venue for a fee business, but potentially more lucrative) and be available to large conventions or corporate events.  The company intends for it to be more utilized than the Garden which would be quite a feat.  We'll see.  MSGE also has a site picked out for a London Sphere, they don't plan on starting construction until the Las Vegas one is complete (but reminds me of the line from the movie Contact, "why build one when you can build two for twice the price?").

Cash
MSGE will be spun with about $1.25B in net cash after receiving a payment from MSGS (usually the spin pays the dividend to the parent) but most if not all of that will be used to fund the construction of the Sphere, so maybe it's worth applying a haircut to the cash, again I don't think it matters too much given today's valuation for the combined MSG but I wouldn't argue against it.

Other Assets:
  • The Forum: MSG bought the Forum in Inglewood, CA in 2012, renovated the former home of the Lakers (they left in 1999) and reopened it in 2014 as a concert venue.  From all accounts its a great place to see a show, but it might not be part of the company for long, ESPN has reported that LA Clippers owner Steve Ballmer is in talks to purchase the Forum to resolve a long standing dispute.  The Clippers want to build a new arena (currently they share the Staples Center with the Lakers under a punishing lease agreement) near the Forum, buying out MSGE would clear the way for that to happen and give the company additional liquidity to pursue the Sphere project without additional debt financing.  MSG spent approximately $100MM renovating the property, Steve Ballmer isn't price sensitive, let's call it worth $200+MM in our swag valuation.
  • Tao Group Hospitality: MSGE owns a controlling stake (~63%) in the nightlife and restaurant operator Tao Group.  Tao operates 30 high-end venues, mostly in Las Vegas, LA and New York under the Tao, Marquee, Lavo and a few other names.  Part of the thinking in making the $181MM investment in 2017 was to partner with Tao's management team on designing and operating hospitality aspects of the Sphere project.  Nightclubs and restaurants are notoriously fickle and difficult to see a moat here, but maybe there could be some synergies with the Sphere, although this seems like a vanity investment.
  • Christmas Spectacular: While their popularity is a bit of a mystery to me, the Rocketts Christmas Spectacular show has been a holiday mainstay for many years and generates about $100MM annually in revenue.  Let's call it 1x revenue to be safe.
  • Entertainment booking business: This is a big piece of the pie and I admit I have no idea how to value it based on their disclosures, but they license their venues out to third-party promoters for a fee.  All the biggest acts want to perform at the Garden, or their other venues, when I had more free time I would go to several shows a year at the Chicago Theater, that's where all the top comedians (Chris Rock, Jerry Seinfeld, etc) stop where they're in town.
  • Sports booking business: MSGE will end up receiving the sports booking business which is current embedded in the Sports operating segment of the combined MSG, this is the business that books events like boxing, college basketball tournaments, MMA and other non-Knicks and Rangers sporting events at the Garden or Forum.
  • Other other: they also own 3.2 million shares of Townsquare Media (TSQ), a radio broadcast company, that's worth about $14MM at today's depressed prices and 50% of the company that puts on the Boston Calling music festival.
Again, apologies for being lazy on the MSGE valuation, don't think it matters at this price, and I just find it difficult to piece together based on the financial disclosures in the Form 10, but I've fared well in these grab bag type assets.  As they mature as a standalone, they tend to uncover value and become easier to understand.
Adding them up, I get what I would call and overly conservative valuation $287 for the pre-split MSG shares.  We will recover, people will go out to live event again, but remember to wash your hands.

Disclosure: I own shares of MSG

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Emmis Communications: Selling Below Net Cash, Mediaco Holdings

Emmis Communications (EMMS) is a micro-cap (~$50MM) radio broadcaster that recently sold their two popular New York radio stations (substantially all of their remaining operating business) via a creative transaction (which is interesting in its own right, more on that later) leaving Emmis as a cash pile and some miscellaneous assets that is currently trading at 60% of net cash.

Emmis has a long history in radio, it was founded roughly 40 years ago and is still run (and controlled via super-voting shares) by CEO Jeff Smulayn, they've done many radio station M&A deals as both a buyer and more recently a seller in the past but in recent years made the strategic decision to effectively exit the business.  Radio is a mature industry but slow-to-no growth as it is increasingly being competed against with superior on-demand products like music streaming and podcasts.  The few times I have the radio on in the car, I usually cringe at how terrible the listening experience is or how ridiculous it is that in 2020 we're still giving out weather and traffic every ten minutes.  Podcasts and streaming services are also getting quite good at targeting ads, I was recently listening to a highly popular podcast and received ads for a car dealership down the street from me -- radio's local advantage is overstated.

But back to Emmis, it now has the following assets:
  • ~$88MM in proforma cash after taxes and other costs of selling the New York radio stations
  • 5 radio stations, four of them are in Indianapolis (local ESPN sports talk affiliate, soft-adult FM that's #2 in the market, a country station that's #3 and a news/talk channel) and the other is an urban gospel channel in New York that's way down the ratings table.  Too much noise in the financial statements to determine what these are worth, but I doubt Emmis sells the Indianapolis stations anyway - there's likely a lot of social status that comes with being a media executive in your hometown, so I don't see Jeff Smulayn divesting these.
  • A licensing agreement with Disney for WEPN-FM in New York, which is the ESPN radio affiliate in the market, Disney is contractually obligated to pay the $42MM in debt associated with that station by 2024 and the debt is non-resource to Emmis.  This arrangement hides the true net-net position of Emmis.
  • Their headquarters building, 40 Monument Circle in Indianapolis, its just under 100k sq feet and was built in 1998 for $25MM.  They do have a $13MM mortgage loan with their headquarters and an additional 70 rural acres in Whitestown, IN (yes, an actual place) collateralizing the loan.  This is their only real debt remaining.
  • $5MM convertible note with Mediaco (MDIA) and they'll also be receiving $9MM in working capital from Mediaco, plus a $1.5MM/year fee for continuing to run the stations
Taking a fairly conservative view of the assets and I come up with Emmis trading at an adjusted enterprise value of -$64MM, or said another way, trading at $3.75 despite having $6.34 in net cash per share ($88MM + $9MM WC from Mediaco - $13MM mortgage debt).
Why is it trading at such a discount to net cash with no value to their other assets?  Well for one, the operating expenses and overhead of the remaining business are such that there is now a quarterly cash burn.  But more importantly, it is a legacy media company with a controlling share class structure, Jeff Smulayn owns all of the Class B shares (and effectively none of the publicly traded Class A) giving him a majority of the vote while only owning ~10% of the economic value of Emmis.  He has outlined a vague plan to buy a "growth business" outside of radio, kind of fashioning Emmis has a middle market PE buyer with its new found cash balance.
That's certainly a bit scary and almost SPAC like in nature, but what I think is potentially more likely and more appropriate for Jeff Smulayn to do is a large tender or take the company private and pursue that family office strategy outside of the public markets.  What's the logic in keeping the controlling structure in place when it is now effectively a SPAC?  The argument behind the legacy media control structure should no longer apply; seems inappropriate and an abuse of minority shareholders.  He tried to take EMMS private in 2016 but couldn't come to agreement on price with the board, I think he might try it again, if not, shares are pretty cheap at just 60% of net cash.

Mediaco Holdings (MDIA)
Potentially more interesting to some -- as part of the sale of the two New York radio stations (Hot 97 and 107.5 WBLS), a new company was formed controlled by Standard General LP, a hedge fund that has historically done well in media sector.  The new company, blandly dubbed Mediaco Holdings (MDIA), is a tiny microcap at this point, the Class A public float that was distributed to EMMS shareholders is around $11MM (Class B is 100% owned by Standard General), but the stated strategy is to pursue an M&A fueled growth strategy looking at "off-the-run" deals in the media space.  The first one was with Emmis and they recently completed another deal funded with debt and convertible preferred stock to buy a billboard company.  The trading dynamic kind of reminds me of Five Star (FVE); Mediaco's current public float was distributed as a taxable dividend to Emmis shareholders on 1/17 as a tiny fraction of their holding in EMMS.  It has traded erratically since the spin/distribution, but Standard General effectively paid ~$7.75 per share for their super-voting shares in the New York radio station deal, although they do have converts and other economic interests that aren't aligned with minority shareholders it still could be interesting well below that price.  Standard General seems to agree and actually bought some of the Class A shares in the open market in the past week:
MDIA is so levered (EV is about $153MM versus a market cap of $47MM) that it is not going to be cheap on an EV/EBITDA basis against radio or billboard peers, but might be on a FCFE basis and is essentially investing in a quasi-public private equity media fund.  I haven't found a website for Mediaco yet, but they did publish an investor deck to Edgar for those interested.

Disclosure: I own shares of EMMS and an insignificant amount of MDIA