Tuesday, July 25, 2017

STORE Capital: Berkshire Deal, High Risk Lender?

STORE Capital (STOR) is an internally managed triple-net lease REIT, I don't own it (and usually don't like to write about companies I don't own), but Berkshire Hathaway (BRK) recently made a direct investment of $377MM for a 9.8% stake that deserves a closer look.  STORE is acronym for Single Tenant Operational Real Estate, basically it means they lend money primarily to middle market retail and service businesses using a sale-leaseback structure where the single tenant box is the collateral.  While STORE Capital is a REIT, it's closer to a BDC type lender than it is to an office, multifamily or even a mall REIT.  The tenants come to them because they need financing and can't get financing through more traditional bank lending.  The tenants then still control the property, pay the taxes, capex, and insurance, plus these are very long term leases, usually 15+ years.
STORE currently has 1750 properties, they're focusing on service sectors (restaurants, movie theaters, health clubs) as a way to mitigate the threat of online shopping, their largest tenants include Art Van Furniture, AMC Entertainment, Gander Mountain, Applebee's, Popeye's and Ashley Furniture.  Often the tenant is really a local franchisee of Applebee's or Ashley Furniture, and not the parent company.

There are plenty of triple-net lease REITs out there, it's a fairly common structure and a commodity business, if STORE does have a "secret sauce" its their focus on unit level profitability.  From their 10-K (click to expand):
To summarize, they strive to have each location be profitable to the tenant, not just the overall tenant themselves, that way if the tenant does get into financial trouble they'll want to hang onto those profitable locations through restructuring and not hand back the keys to STORE.  Again, think of STORE as a lender and not a landlord, they're not in the business of re-positioning a failed retail box into a higher and best use, just like a bank is not in a great position to manage the sale of a foreclosed home.  To facilitate this level of underwriting, STORE receives unit level financials on 97% of their locations, surely a useful data point that helps manage the growing portfolio.

Where the story gets a little promotional for me, STORE rates the credit quality of each tenant with an internal metric dubbed "The STORE Score".  Their tenants are almost entirely non-rated entities, last year they average an 8% cap rate on new investments, and again, these are entities that typically don't qualify for traditional bank financing.  Yet, based on SCORE's internal metric, 75% of their tenants would be investment grade if rated, or at least default at rates similar to a Baa2 rating.
Here's where I question the validity of the score, if I look at bank loans rated Baa2, I see the average coupon being something like LIBOR + 200 bps, no where near the equivalent to an 8% cap rate that STORE is receiving, what's the explanation?  The management team here is well thought of here, STORE was originally created by Oaktree in 2011 before going public in 2014, they're focused on doing smaller one off deals for the time being (likely will become more difficult as they grow), so maybe its just better management and the ability to do bespoke deals?  Possible, to me it seems questionable that they're tenants are really investment grade but at least STORE is doing their own underwriting work.

But promotion is part of the REIT game, STORE's real product is their own shares, in order for them to continually grow they need to raise more capital by issuing shares.  It's not entirely different than an asset management company marketing their funds and selling the product.  Berkshire Hathaway bought at $20.25, today the shares trade for $23.25, so accepting BRK's stamp of approval lowered their cost of a capital, probably a smart capital raise on STORE's part.  Depending on your assumptions for the fresh BRK capital, STOR trades for about a 6.0-6.5% cap rate today and if they're continually able to invest at 7.5-8.0% cap rates they'd be smart to continue to issue equity.

I'd peg STORE Capital at about fair value today and think it's reasonable to assume a ~10% annual return from here going forward.  Management lays out the math a bit in their presentation, but if you're buying in at a 6.5% cap rate today, levering it, reinvesting some of the cash flows, raising rents 1.8% per year, issuing equity to buy at 8%, dock something for defaults/recovery and the returns lay themselves out pretty well.
This is a better mouse trap than many other alternative investment products out there or a BDC/CEF, at least here you have the real estate as collateral, it should perform close to the overall market with lower volatility.  Given Berkshire's cash hoard, can't blame them for taking that proposition.
I co-chair a monthly investment research group where we discuss special situations and just general value investing ideas, yesterday the topic was STORE Capital, if you're in Chicago and free on the 4th Monday of every month come join us.

Disclosure: No Position