iStar is an odd REIT that doesn't pay a dividend, REITs are generally under-invested in by institutional investors (although that may change now that REITs have recently been carved out of financials into their own S&P sector) but are generally favored by retail investors because of their high dividends. iStar misses both investor bases. iStar is a unique pass-through entity that has NOLs from the financial crisis (similar to ACAS in the BDC industry) and are using their tax asset to shield taxable income (bypassing the 90% distribution rule) in order to reinvest in their business and repurchase shares. They're not getting credit for this strategy as it doesn't immediately result in higher dividends or in a clearly articulated higher NAV value. Instead, iStar uses a gross book value metric in their press releases which adds back depreciation on their real estate but does not give any credit to the increase in real estate values since they acquired the development assets via foreclosure or the additional value created above cost as they've deployed capital into those properties.
iStar breaks out their business into four main buckets: 1) Real Estate Finance, 2) Net Lease, 3) Operating Properties, and 4) Land and Development. Real Estate Finance and Net Lease are complementary businesses as a triple net lease property is essentially a financing transaction. The Operating Properties and Land and Development segments are the assets iStar acquired through foreclosure, over time these segments should shrink from 36% of assets to become a smaller part of the pie.
|Q2 16 10-Q|
On an FFO basis:
On an NAV basis:
Land and Development Assets
iStar's Land and Development assets are quite extensive but there's not a lot of disclosure around the specifics of each asset in the 10-K, maybe something for the new CFO to implement? In total they control land that will eventually contain over 30,000 residential units, not an insignificant number. Management expects the back half of 2016 and into 2017 to be big realization years, with $500MM in exits targeted from the Land and Development and Operating Properties segments. Below are a few projects that are currently in production or under development:
- 1000 South Clark: 29 story, 469 unit luxury apartment complex located in Chicago's South Loop. iStar partnered with a local builder in a JV, its both an equity investor and a lender in the deal, it will likely be sold after stabilization early next year.
- Asbury Park Waterfront: iStar recently opened an "adult playground" hotel, The Asbury, in Asbury Park, NJ (Jersey Shore), the hotel/entertainment venue is meant to spur additional development in the surrounding 35 acres of land iStar owns that will eventually support over 2,700 residential units. iStar is currently finishing up a small condo project, called Monroe, which is 40% sold and has plans to revive an uncompleted high rise construction project called Esperanza that was abandoned after the financial crisis.
- Ford Amphitheater at Coney Island: iStar just recently completed construction on a 5,000 seat amphitheater along the boardwalk in Coney Island, the amphitheater was built to spur additional development around it, which iStar has 5.5 acres and plans for 565 residential units.
- Grand Vista: 5,500 acres of mostly raw land on the outskirts of Phoenix that has plans for 15,000 residential units, this was a large failed project before the financial crisis and it may take a while before Phoenix builds out to this site.
- Highpark: Formerly known as Ponte Vista, Highpark is a 62 acre former naval shipyard in San Pedro, California which will house 700 new residences.
- Magnolia Green: A classic master planned communities outside of Richmond, VA with a golf course and room for 3,500 residential units. It has an estimated sellout date of 2026 and another 2.400 units remaining to be sold. Richmond is becoming a hot market, the city itself is pretty vibrant and it's in a good geographic weather location, it should attract both millenials and retiring baby boomers.
- Marina Palms: Two luxury towers along with a marina in North Miami Beach, the second tower is currently under construction and slated to be finished in December 2016. The company partnered with a local builder and contributed the land for a 47.5% interest in the JV.
- Spring Mountain Ranch Place: 785-acre master planned community located in the Inland Empire. For the first phase of the development, iStar partnered with KB Homes and retained a 75.6% interest in the JV, the first phase calls for 435 homes, 200 of which had been sold as of 12/31/15. Additional phases of the MPC will bring a total of 1,400 home sites.
iStar has $856MM of net operating loss carry-forwards at the REIT level that can be used to offset taxable income and don't expire until 2034. The NOL allows iStar to utilize retained earnings to grow rather than tap the capital markets constantly like traditional REITs. This is a plus for iStar as they trade for a significant discount to my estimate of NAV, if forced to pay out market rate dividends they might not be able to access enough capital to fully realize the value of their development assets. Additionally, they have more available free cash flow to buyback shares which should ultimately be a better use of cash at these prices than paying out a dividend.
The company is a large net seller of real estate, they will be selling down their portfolio as time goes on using the proceeds to pay down debt and repurchase more shares. In the past twelve months iStar has repurchased 19% of their shares outstanding, after the second quarter they approved another $50MM increase to their repurchase program. The combination of selling their non-core assets above book value and buying back shares below NAV is powerful and could lead to some substantial returns.
- Jay Sugarman is the CEO of iStar, he's been in that position since the late 1990s and thus led iStar into the financial crisis, he has a lot of the trappings of a NYC real estate guy (owns a sports team, Philadephia Union of the MLS, and a massive home in the Hamptons). But like Michael Falcone at MMAC, sometimes you need the guy who led you into the abyss to lead you out because they know each asset intimately and where the bodies are buried.
- Does iStar go back to the "boring" business of real estate finance and net lease after diving into the glamorous development world? Their website and headshots don't look like your typical REIT or credit shop, I worry the management team has fallen in love with real estate development and the portfolio won't ever resemble a clean REIT until iStar exhausts its NOLs.
- Timing of asset sales, a few of iStar's land and development assets have long tails (10+ years), if they intend to do the development themselves versus selling to a local builder it could push out the value realization time frame.
- Leverage, convertible bonds/preferreds, development assets all make iStar more vulnerable to a recession and a downturn in real estate prices. They have some near term debt maturities and are generally dependent on the capital markets on an ongoing basis for both debt refinancing and asset sales.
iStar reminds me of a combination of HHC (hard to value development assets, atypical for a public vehicle), MMAC (real estate acquired through foreclosure that's difficult to piece out, cannibal of its own shares), and ACAS (pass through entity that doesn't pay a dividend due to its NOL assets). Over time I think can generate similar gains as those previous ideas. Thanks to the reader who pointed it out in a previous comment section.
Disclosure: I own shares of STAR