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EastGroup Properties, Inc. (NYSE:EGP)

Q4 2012 Earnings Call

February 13, 2013 11:00 am ET

Executives

David Hoster - President & CEO

Keith McKey - CFO

Analysts

Craig Mailman - KeyBanc Capital Markets

Zhi Zhang - Bank of America

Blaine Heck - Wells Fargo

Mitch Germain - JMP Securities

Kevin Varin - Citi

John Stewart - Green Street Advisors

Operator

Good morning, and welcome to EastGroup Properties Fourth Quarter 2012 Earnings Conference Call. At this time, all participants are in a listen-only-mode. Later, you will have the opportunity to ask questions during our Q&A session. (Operator Instructions).

It is now my pleasure to introduce David Hoster, President and CEO.

David Hoster

Good morning and thanks for calling in for our Fourth Quarter 2012 Conference Call. We appreciate your interest in EastGroup. Let me apologize upfront for not being the sharp as I think I usually am on these calls. I have been in bed with the flu or a very bad cold for the past two days, but did not want to miss the fun of an earnings conference call.

Keith McKey, our CFO, will also be on the call. And also participating will be John Coleman in Orlando, Brent Wood in Houston, and Bill Petsas in Phoenix who have called in from the field to back me up. Please do not hesitate to direct questions to them. Since we will be making forward-looking statements today, we ask that you listen to the following disclaimer covering these statements.

Unidentified Company Speaker

The discussion today involves forward-looking statements. Please refer to the Safe Harbor language included in the company's news release announcing results for this quarter that describes certain risk factors and uncertainties that may impact the company's future results and may cause the actual results to differ materially from those projected. Also, the content of this conference call contains time-sensitive information that is subject to the Safe Harbor statement included in the news release is accurate only as of the date of this call.

David Hoster

Thank you. The fourth quarter was productive for EastGroup. We finished 2012 with a total shareholder return of 28.8%. Funds from operations of $0.78 per share for the fourth quarter met the mid-point of our guidance and represented an increase of 1.3% as compared to the same period last year. This was the seventh consecutive quarter of FFO growth when compared to the previous year's quarter.

Same property cash operating results were positive also for the seventh consecutive quarter, although GAAP results were slightly negative. Occupancy increased to 94.6%, our highest level in 18 quarters. We started two new developments in the fourth quarter and four additional buildings since year end. We acquired five buildings in Dallas and sold the Tulsa property. And we've continued to take advantage of the attractive debt and equity markets.

Looking at property operations, same property net operating income for the fourth quarter was up 0.9% on a cash basis and down 0.2% with straight-line rent adjustments. For the year the increases was 1.8% and 0.8% respectively.

Occupancy at December 31 was 94.6%, our highest level since the second quarter of 2008, a span of 18 quarters. It represented a 30 basis point increase from the end of the third quarter and a 70 basis point gain over the end of 2011. During the first two quarters of this year, we expect occupancy to drop by about 200 basis points and then increase back to approximately 94.5% for the third and fourth quarters.

Our California markets were the best at 98.2% leased followed by our Texas markets at 97.0% leased. Houston, our largest market with 5.1 million square feet, was 98.7% leased and 98% occupied. Phoenix and Jacksonville were our only core markets below 93% leased.

Leasing activity in the past 30 days is the best we have seen since the beginning of the recession. Companies that have held back due to the election, tax law, unknowns or the fiscal cliff seem to have decided they finally have to make future space needs in spite of that is going on in Washington.

In the fourth quarter we renewed 58% of the 949,000 square feet that expired in the quarter, and signed new leases on another 33% of the expiring space for a total of 91%. We also leased 329,000 square feet that had either terminated early during the quarter or was vacant at the beginning of the quarter. In addition we have leased and renewed 713,000 square feet since December 31.

For the quarter, GAAP rent spreads on renewal leases were up 6.2% but down 6.5% on new leases. Cash rent spreads were negative 2.8% on renewals and 11.6% on new leases. Average lease length was 3.7 years which was our average for the year. Tenant improvements were $1.93 per square foot for the life of the lease, or $0.52 per square foot per year of the lease, which was above our average due to leasing to higher quality tenants who require higher than normal improvements but were willing to pay a higher rent, as well as lease up of older vacancies that had required some extra work.

In mid December, as previously reported, we acquired Valwood Distribution Center in Northwest Dallas for $40.8 million. The five multi-tenant business distribution buildings contain a total of 722,000 square feet and are currently 95% leased. Two of the buildings were constructed in '97-'98 and three in '86-'87. This purchase increases our ownership in Dallas to 2.1 million square feet.

For the full year we acquired 878,000 square feet of new properties in three separate transactions for a combined investment of $51.8 million. In late December, we closed the sale of Braniff Distribution Center with 259,000 square feet in Tulsa for $10.3 million generating a gain of $4.5 million. Braniff was our only asset in Tulsa.

During 2012, we had three sales transactions with a total of 444,000 square feet on combined prices of $17.9 million, which generated gains of $6.5 million. In 2013, we project acquisitions of approximately $30 million during the second half of the year. We currently do not have any operating properties under contract to purchase or sell.

Turning to fourth quarter, we began construction of two additional Houston buildings with a projected total investment of $16.5 million. World Houston 37 will contain a 101,000 square feet and World Houston 38, which is a build-to-suit, will have 129,000 square feet.

Also during the quarter we transferred Beltway Crossing IX, which has 45,000 square feet and is 100% leased and occupied to the portfolio.

For the full-year, we initiated development of 9 projects containing 757,000 square feet with a combined expected investment of $54.8 million, eight are in three different locations in Houston and the ninth is in Orlando. Of the Houston developments four are build-to-suits.

For the year we transferred four properties with 273,000 square feet to the portfolio. They are currently 97% leased. With increase in new construction in 2012, we will experience an increase in development property transfers to the portfolio in 2013 and 2014.

In the fourth quarter, we purchased 4.1 acres in Dallas for $404,000 as part of our Valwood acquisition, and also 29.4 acres in Northwest Houston for $3.3 million both for future development.

For the year, we had a total of 6 land purchases with 110 acres and an investment of $13 million. These parcels were in Houston, Tampa, Chandler, Denver and Dallas, and provide the potential to develop almost 1.5 million square feet of new industrial assets.

Since the beginning of this year we have already began construction of four buildings with $251,000 square feet and a projected total investment of $19.6 million. Two are in Houston and one each in San Antonio and Orlando.

We have also transferred World Houston 33 with 160,000 square feet and Southridge XI with 88,000 square feet to the portfolio. They are 100% and 83% leased and occupied respectively.

As of today EastGroup’s development program consist of 16 buildings with over $1 million square feet and a total projected investment of $83 million.

For the balance of this year, we see the potential for additional development starts of $25 million to $45 million.

EastGroup’s development program has been and we believe is becoming a significant of shareholder value again in both the short and longer term. Today, we have developed one-third of our current portfolio adding over 10.4 million square feet of state-of-the-art warehouse space in core markets. Since 2010, all of our developments are being built do LEED standards and we are pursuing formal LEED certification.

Keith will now review a number financial topics including our earnings guidance for 2013.

Keith McKey

Good morning. FFO per share for the quarter increased 1.3%, compared to the same quarter last year. Lease termination fee income, net of bad debts, increased FFO by $74,000, comparing the fourth quarter of 2012 to 2011. FFO per share for the year increased 4.1% compared to 2011. Lease termination fee income, net of bad debts, decreased FFO by $266,000 or $0.1 per share, compared to 2011.

During the fourth quarter, we sold 667,755 common shares under our continuous equity program at an average price of $52.51 a share with gross proceeds of $35 million. We have added a new schedule Page 13, in the supplemental package that details our sales of common shares from the continuous equity program.

Our outstanding bank debts was $76 million at year end and with a new bank lines of $250 million we would have had $174 million of capacity at December 31. The new credit facilities consist of a full-year $225 million unsecured facility with a group of nine banks with options for a one-year extension and a $100 million expansion. Currently, the interest rate is LIBOR plus 1.175% with an annual facility fee of 0.225%.

Also, in January, we renewed our $25 million unsecured working capital facility for four years on the same terms as the $225 million facility. Debt to total market capitalization was 33.6% at December 31, 2012, compared to 40.9% at December 31, 2011. For the year, the interest and fixed charge covered ratios were 3.5 times. The debt to EBITDA ratio was 6.5 times for the year.

In January of his year Fitch ratings affirmed EastGroup's Issuer Default Rating of BBB with a stable outlook. Also in January Moody's assigned an Issuer Rating of BAA2 with a stable outlook. This is the initial rating by Moody's and we are pleased with the result. With these ratings we plan to primarily issue unsecured debt for future financings.

In December we paid our 132nd consecutive quarterly cash distribution to common stock holders. This quarterly dividend of $0.53 per share equates to an annualized dividend of $2.12 per share. This was the company's 20th consecutive year of increasing or maintaining cash distributions to its shareholders. Our dividend and FFO payout ratio was 68% for the year. Rental income from properties amounts to almost all of our revenues, so our dividend is a 100% covered by property net operating income.

FFO for 2013 is projected to be in the range of $3.10 to $3.20 per share. Earnings per share is estimated to be in the range of a $1.2 to a $1.12. A few of these assumptions we used our occupancy rates are projected at average 93% to 94.5%. Acquiring $30 million of properties in second half of the year, our mortgage of $34.5 million in December 31, 2012 matures during in the year with an interest rate of 4.75%.

We have been active in selling shares under our continuous equity program. In addition to the $111 million sold in 2012, we project to sell an addition 1,265,000 shares in 2013. The 111 million was dollars in 2012. We believe we have a strong balance sheet and we play a conservative approach to financing our acquisition and development programs.

Some of the negatives for 2013 are the sale of Braniff at the close of 2012 and that will cost us $0.01 per share. The new bank lines caused $0.01 per share. We believe that the new rate is favorable to the market but we had a very attractive rate of 85 basis points over that we started a number of years ago.

G&A increase counts $0.03 per share due to increased compensation and past compensation plans that are still being expensed on vesting schedules. If we have more development activity the G&A expense will decrease. The 2013 FFO per share mid-point is $3.15, which is an increase of 2.3%, compared to 2012.

Now, David will make some final comments.

David Hoster

We are in somewhat of the transitional year. Occupancy is up but we now need more pricing power with rents which should come with our strong leasing activity. Our development program is picking up steam but there is obviously time delay between construction starts and customers moving in.

Our acquisitions always seem to come in the second half of the year and exceed what we projected, but we’ve seen a continuing compression in capitalization rates. Our balance sheet is strong and flexible and our good debt rating should help in future financings. As a result of all of this, we believe we are well-positioned for future growth.

Keith and I and three fellows in the field will now take your questions.

Question-and-Answer Session

Operator

(Operator Instructions). We will take our first question from Craig Mailman with KeyBanc Capital Markets. Please go ahead. Your line is open.

Craig Mailman - KeyBanc Capital Markets

Maybe Dave you can start with kind of one of your final commentary about 2013 being a transitional year and needing rent growth. I’m just curious looking through the different markets, I mean, you guys are pretty well leased here and though we've talked about it in prior calls that is really the -- you guys are just trending ahead of the markets. I mean, are you guys seeing that gap between your occupancy and market occupancy kind of starting to narrow and making you feel better about the potential for rent growth in 2013 maybe second half, or is it still pretty soft and you guys are kind of dialing back your expectations at what you can do?

David Hoster

No, the occupancy in our core markets every market except Las Vegas where we only have one complex had an occupancy increase in the fourth quarter. So, we think that that gap is closing a bit. The good news is that we are way up in occupancy, the bad news is that we need the markets to, as you just point out, improve a bit before we have significant pricing power. And we had a lot of same property operating result growth for couple of years with strong occupancy increases, and starting the year at 94.6 we don’t see much of an increased opportunity and project that our average occupancy in 2013 is exactly the same as what we had in 2012. So, we are -- things are trending in the right direction but they never move as quickly as you’d like them to.

Craig Mailman - KeyBanc Capital Markets

That’s fair. And then just on the -- your comments about the 200 basis point occupancy drop in the first half of ‘13 some of that’s likely seasonality. Are there big known move-outs that we need to know about and maybe if there are just the timing on that?

David Hoster

We have unusually high number of move outs in Jacksonville. And there was seasonality some about average for us and some larger move outs in Tampa, but as I mentioned in my introductory remarks that that will hit us in the first and second quarter but we expect to be back up to where we finished the year at the end of third and fourth quarters given the leasing activity that we see today.

Craig Mailman - KeyBanc Capital Markets

And you said leasing activity was the best in the past 30 days. Is it broad-based across all your markets? Are there any kind of tenant silos that are moving that more than others or is it just as you said people finally making decisions?

David Hoster

We are having more showings and putting out more proposals than we have in years, and its pretty much broad-based. Right now, over the last 30 days, our Tampa market seem to be lagging some of the others but we think that’s just a blip, but we had our bi-weekly leasing call and everybody was very positive in terms of the activity that they are seeing and the leasing that’s occurring. We hope to have some more leases signed before this call but there are good many in process. So as I said, we are pleased with what’s going on.

Craig Mailman - KeyBanc Capital Markets

Any uptick in housing related tenants yet or?

David Hoster

Very slightly that we are seeing especially in Texas where housing market are all strong, if they are housing related but nothing so much that we can get excited about it yet.

Craig Mailman - KeyBanc Capital Markets

Okay. And then just one last quick one, just given the improving…

David Hoster

Craig, I have been -- and I should have said it before and a number of callers have said that I let people ask too many questions so.

Craig Mailman - KeyBanc Capital Markets

I will go back in the queue.

Operator

And we will take our next question from Jamie Feldman with Bank of America. Please go ahead your line is open.

Zhi Zhang - Bank of America

Hi, guys, this actually Zhi Zhang with Jamie. I just wanted to follow-up on the commentary earlier about market rents. Can you give an update about what you are expecting for the leasing spreads in 2013 and when you expect them to turn positive?

David Hoster

We ended the renewal leasing spreads positive for ‘12 and I would hope that would continue in ‘13. It’s -- the more I thought about it I think the less important to determine the spreads are on leasing vacant space and some of our peers don't even give that statistic because for example if the space has been vacant for over a year, leasing a vacant space is extremely positive obviously to FFO and really don't have any difference whether the spread is positive or negative but we reported that way.

Another example that I have given to a number of people in the past is let's just say we have two 25,000 square foot vacancies next to each other and one of them the rent of the previous tenant a year ago was $5 and the other space the previous tenant was paying $3 because it was a short term lease signed after the recession started, and the market rent is $4. We’ve put them in the space on the right, we’ve reported 20% drop. If we’ve put them in the space on the left we would report a third increase, but since they were both vacant it's good for the bottom line. So that’s hard to say. I keep putting off when I think everything is going to report to be positive, but it will be no earlier than later in the year and maybe even in the beginning of the next year, but so I think the renewal rates were the ones that are a better indicator of where FFO is going to go.

Zhi Zhang - Bank of America

Thanks David, that’s helpful and just one more on the development pipeline. Can you talk a little bit more about how much more the development pipeline can grow, what projects are included in the 2013 estimates, and what kind of is the potential for exceeding the 45 that you’ve guided to?

David Hoster

I think the upside can be two times of that, but that’s probably a little bit optimistic. So I would hope that we would do $75 million to $80 million in starts, but as you've heard me say in the past everything is based on leasing of what’s in the pipeline now. But we would hope to start at least one more property in the first quarter and probably won't have as many starts in the second quarter until maybe till the end of the quarter. But we can say it could be $75 million to $80 million with the upper end $90 million. We do not include any projected build-to-suits in those numbers because they somewhat come out of the blue and you can go a year without doing any or have a whole group in a row like we signed last year.

Zhi Zhang - Bank of America

Okay, so the guidance is just spec.

David Hoster

Yeah, the guidance is spec, it's $45 million.

Operator

And we'll take our next question from Blaine Heck with Wells Fargo. Please go ahead, your line is open.

Blaine Heck - Wells Fargo

Just to follow up on that discussion on development, what is sort of the governor on your decision to go ahead with a development project? Do you look for kind of rents that will get you a certain target yield? I think you guys are at about 8.5 on average right now, or is it more of a decision based on whether or not you think there is deep enough tenant demand in a certain market to fill the space?

David Hoster

It's all the above plus some others. We're obviously pro forming rent we think we can achieve that's going to give us our spec building a yield of 100% occupancy north of 8. We're looking at what first generation space is either available in the market to today or will be coming online very soon. And then, most of our developments are additional phases in existing parks, and so we look at what kind of demand we see in that park, are we turning people away, and what type -- what level of rents are we receiving in that park, and do they justify a good -- an attractive pro form rent.

Blaine Heck - Wells Fargo

So, I guess, asked a different way, if you had a reasonable certainty that the tenant base was there, would you guys be open to going below say an 8% yield?

David Hoster

We certainly would on a build-to-suit but right now probably not on spec building except in, I don't want to say never because there are always going to be some exceptions to that, but more likely it will at least an 8.

Blaine Heck - Wells Fargo

And then just one other, the same-store NOI guidance that you gave, was that cash or GAAP?

Keith McKey

GAAP.

Blaine Heck - Wells Fargo

And where do you think which you have relative to that

Keith McKey

0.3 positive to 2.3 positive.

Operator

And we'll take our next question from Mitch Germain, JMP Securities. Please go ahead, your line is open.

Mitch Germain - JMP Securities

David, just with regards to your development pipeline, is there a certain threshold in terms of size that you're willing to accept at this point or given where you are on the cycle and this is then the success you had, are you willing to discontinue the growth at in the near term?

David Hoster

Every development is looked at individually and the decision made on it, and I do not think we are anywhere close to hitting any upper end that would make us uncomfortable starting new developments. And we have, because of what is been going on in Houston, for us a record number of build-to-suits, which makes the whole lot easier to have new starts. So, we got a way to go before we worry about having too much risk.

Mitch Germain - JMP Securities

And with regards to your comment, which reference how lease activity was the highest. I mean, how -- obviously, some of that attributed to a backlog of 10 inch that were delaying of leasing decisions, how would you have characterized 4Q leasing levels or prospect activity to kind of where you are today? What sort of increase are we talking about?

David Hoster

I would just be guessing if I put a percentage increase on it but it is up a good bit. I mean, you have to have prospects you are showing space to for them to ask for an RFP or proposal, yet we are putting out our responding RFPs before we start signing leases, but it all begins with people looking at your spaces or talking about development leasing in first generation space. And particularly, in Texas, Houston and San Antonio, our activity is surprisingly high in buildings where we do not have -- even have the shell completed. So, I think that is a real positive. We are getting spoiled from that standpoint.

Operator

And we will take our next question from Michael Bilerman with Citi. Please go ahead your line is open.

Kevin Varin - Citi

Hi, this is actually Kevin Varin with Michael Bilerman. We are just wondering how the acquisition pipeline is looking to dive into what you are seeing in those markets and maybe what the cap rates on what people are underwriting rent growth and so on?

David Hoster

We have always had that we experience of the first quarter being slow, I think an awful lot of the institutional owners who generally are going own the properties that we would be interested in are deciding in the first quarter what to sell, who to list it with, and so there is a whole lot a big increase in offerings that you see at the end of the first quarter and in the second quarter. But as the cap rates, obviously the low interest rates that people can borrow today have help bring down those cap rates, but for the first time in memory the cap rates in Dallas and Houston have gone below at 6 for highest quality assets. In markets like Tampa that I guess you'd call secondary markets but that we like to buy in the cap rates in 12 months have dropped probably anywhere from 50 to 75 basis points because people are looking at some of those secondary markets or A minus markets to get a little bit better yield and a little less competition on buying.

So, we are always optimistic that we are going to find some good acquisitions to fill in where we can not build. And we are always projecting in the second half of the year because that seems to be when they happen. And I guess over the last number three years we probably projected $25 million to $30 million in our numbers and have done twice that. And -- but that usually happens later in the year, so it also why (inaudible) on earnings and guidance standpoint.

Kevin Varin - Citi

You mentioned that the $75 million to $80 million in upside for the potential starts for the year, I guess where -- are most of those located you seen in Houston or can you see other areas where those projects to be coming online?

David Hoster

Oh, no. We see additional starts in San Antonio. That market has become very strong and right now nobody else is building there. Some of the other institutions have pulled out of that market but strong economy, a lot of new manufacturing there. And the energy oil and gas boom has created a whole new group of prospects for us. We have two attractive pieces of land in Chandler, which is South Phoenix or the RD area; Intel has massive operation there that they are expanding. We hope to be under construction there.

We bought a little piece of land in Denver that is right next door to our Rampart III. We tried to buy at three or four years ago and somebody else bought it. We bought it for less money last year and want to build there. And we are eager to do some construction in Charlotte; we think there is some high demand for first generation space. So, those were all -- and I mentioned Orlando also, but those were all markets where we see potential starts.

Operator

And we will take our next question from John Stewart with Green Street Advisors. Please go ahead your line is open.

John Stewart - Green Street Advisors

David, what was the cap rate on the sale in Tulsa?

David Hoster

Looking -- the billing was a 100% occupied, so I always looking at a cap rate at 95%. Occupancy was 8.5% at that number but since it would have been a 100% if we held it in terms of who it affects future FFO it was a 9% yield.

John Stewart - Green Street Advisors

Okay. And on the $30 million of acquisitions that you've potentially dialed into guidance, where would you -- you did not necessarily guide to a cap rate but where would you be comfortable or where might we think about yields on investments in the second half?

David Hoster

Mid-to-high six. Although, we always buy more than we think we are going to the cap rate turned to be lower than we projected.

John Stewart - Green Street Advisors

Okay.

David Hoster

And I would hope we would be able to deliver some good acquisitions in Charlotte, San Antonio is a market we want to grow in I think that the cap rates will be a little more attracted there. And we want to continue to grow in Dallas. And it is hard to do development there for whole variety of reasons, so I think our growth in Dallas will come from acquisitions.

John Stewart - Green Street Advisors

And then, just wanted to try to reconcile some of your comments and I guess specifically, on cap rate compression and what -- do you see a disconnect? What are people underwriting in term of rent growth? Because when we look at -- there is tax that you are reporting and the guidance you are giving in terms of where we see rents headed, yeah, what are people underwriting in terms of rent growth?

David Hoster

Good question. I don't know. All I can do is when we underwrite a potential acquisition and then see what somebody else paid is look at the current rent rolls adjusted to what we believe market rates are today, and viewed as a growing in cap rate on that basis. So, I do not know what other REITs or institutional type buyers are using for their assumptions.

John Stewart - Green Street Advisors

What are you using on the deals that you missed upon?

David Hoster

Pardon me?

John Stewart - Green Street Advisors

What are you using on the deals that you maybe bid on the fourth quarter and did not win?

David Hoster

I mean, we just used market rates. I mean, we look at the first year or if the rates are way below market or there is vacancy then we may be would look at the first two or even three years, but we are a cash flow buyer not an IRR buyer. So, we didn't dial in rate increases or rent spikes or worry about exit cap rates. We are just an old fashioned cash on cash buyer.

Operator

And it appears we have no further questions at this time.

David Hoster

Okay. Thank you all for your interest in EastGroup. Keith will be in the office to answer any questions that you might have. Anything he can't answer I will try to catch up with you later in the day or tomorrow. Again, thanks for your interest in EastGroup.

Operator

This concludes today's program. You may disconnect at this time. Thank you, and have a great day.

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