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Executives

Dave Kimichik - CFO & Treasurer

Deric Eubanks - VP, Operations

Analysts

David Harris - Deutsche Bank

Ashford Hospitality Trust Inc. (AHT) Ashford Hospitality Trust at Deutsche Bank 2011 Hospitality and Gaming Conference Call November 10, 2011 4:25 PM ET

David Harris - Deutsche Bank

I am David Harris with Deutsche Bank’s Real Estate Investment Banking practice. I am going to be moderating here. We have Dave Kimichik and Deric Eubanks from Ashford Hospitality. Thanks for coming guys. Just wanted to start off and so it is that everyone here in the room here has an idea, how would you say you guys positioned yourselves relatively speaking, relative to the other REITs in this space.

Dave Kimichik

Well, I think we are a little bit different. We tend to analyze more things, more different kind of things. We for example bought back a lot of stock in 2009-2010. We swapped a lot of debt in 2008 when we saw the recession coming. I think we are like a lot of REITs in certain ways, but we are different in a lot of ways that we like to do things a little bit differently.

David Harris - Deutsche Bank

And your core strategy is to owning hotels and you've got, how large is your portfolio size right now?

Dave Kimichik

We own a 124 hotels, $4.9 billion of assets with the second largest lodging REITs. We are in the hotel business exclusively, but we like to make investments through the whole capital stack of the hotel business.

David Harris - Deutsche Bank

And what kinds of hotels we are talking about brands and change scale?

Dave Kimichik

We are in, 96% of our EBITDA comes from upper upscale and upscale hotels. In terms of the class we compete in and in terms of brands, 85% of our hotels are either from the Hilton family of friends or the Marriott family of friends. And that's by design we think a lot of those two companies, they put a lot of people in our hotel rooms. They are pretty good in terms of getting RevPAR penetration in our subsets and so we like to be affiliated with Marriott or Hilton typically.

David Harris - Deutsche Bank

And then the hotels, a lot of them are also managed, some are managed by the brands and some are managed by third party managers as well as?

Dave Kimichik

Yes, we have about a third of our EBITDA is managed by an affiliate, Remington and the rest of our hotels are managed essentially by four different brands that and prominently Hilton and Marriott again are the big managers.

David Harris - Deutsche Bank

So what, you know Remington big manager, what do you think of the advantages and disadvantages of the Remington-managed hotels versus the big brand managed hotels?

Dave Kimichik

I can’t think of any disadvantages to be honest with you. Remington does a great job managing the hotels. They are typically lower paid in terms of the fee that we pay them. They are more flexible on termination for the hotels we want to sell. The contracts we have with Remington are terminable for no cost on sale and the brands on the other case are more expensive. The contracts are no-cut contracts. They go on for 20 to 30 years with renewal options and Remington does a better job of running our hotels. They run a leaner more efficient ship.

We are always comparing our notes each quarter in terms of our EBITDA margin improvement and Remington is always leading in that category, but we use their business model to get the brands to come around to our way of thinking and so we are very successful in terms of our EBITDA margin because of Remington because of the model that they set up.

David Harris - Deutsche Bank

So if you were to take a look at, you think Remington’s margins outperformed some of the other brands?

Dave Kimichik

No questions, no comments.

David Harris - Deutsche Bank

You know, approximate, what might be the range sort of, how do you start to think about that from a numbers perspective?

Dave Kimichik

For example, year-to-date, I think Remington is probably up in excess of 200 basis points of margin improvement. The brands, by and large are a little bit under 200 basis points, it’s probably about a 25% variance in terms of their success ratio.

David Harris - Deutsche Bank

Yeah we have seen a lot of through the downturn here, the third party managers have certainly outperformed in many cases, so certainly a good selling point and talk a little bit about the Highland transaction, maybe if you could start with an overview of the transaction for those who may not be familiar.

Dave Kimichik

Highland was a public to private deal. In 2007, there was a public company called Highland Hospitality. They went private, they sold their company to JER in 2007 and Ashford lent mez capital to JER. And so we were a mez lender for several years, the loan came due in 2010, and because we had the mez investment that was in essentially the fulcrum position on the value, we ultimately control the disposition of that portfolio.

We are able to buy that portfolio from JER essentially for $1.3 billion, but there was no competition and that’s really important. We have bought it we think very cheaply. In terms of metrics, we bought it for $158,000 per key that is really a feel in terms of the quality of the hotels and the quality of the assets. By comparison, similar hotels have traded since 2009 to present for $269,000 a key that’s a 41% discount; we feel like we got because we’re in the fulcrum position because we’re able to buy with no other bidders.

David Harris - Deutsche Bank

And so can you kind of compare in contrast the quality of the Highland assets versus the Legacy portfolio?

Dave Kimichik

I think the Highland assets are not above the Legacy portfolio that we have and they are a little bit more urban, a little bit bigger boxes, a little less select service yet because the portfolio was really undermanaged for a few years, we have a lot of opportunity on the cost side. For example, in 2010, the Highland portfolio had an 18% EBITDA flow. In contrast in 2010, our Legacy portfolio had 100% EBITDA flow. So there is a lot of opportunity getting caught up in terms of where the margin should be.

In the third quarter, we reported our third quarter numbers yesterday, the Highland portfolio outperformed the Legacy portfolio in terms of EBITDA flow; it had 230 basis points improvement just in the quarter. But still there is a long way to go with the portfolio. We have like hotels in our Legacy portfolio versus the Highland portfolio yet the EBITDA margin is 250 basis points greater in our Legacy portfolio. So we got a lot of room to run, we got a lot of ground to make up and we’re working on that right now.

David Harris - Deutsche Bank

And how is – and Remington, they have come into managed part of that portfolio as far?

Dave Kimichik

Yes. They’ve taken over 17 hotels. We bought the portfolio in March. They took over 17 hotels and they have fill 17 sales positions and a lot of GM positions. They are now fully integrated and fully staffed. I think they are up and running and by comparison in the second quarter the Highland hotels only had 3.4% RevPAR growth. In the third quarter, the Highland hotels had 5.5% RevPAR growth as compared to our Legacy portfolio that had 5.9% RevPAR growth. So really closed the gap in terms of the spread and we expect that momentum to continue.

David Harris - Deutsche Bank

I want to move on from Highland’s in the general strategy may be if you can talk a little bit just M&A more broadly; have you guys sold smaller assets, in the last quarter I think it was Hampton Inn in Jacksonville earlier this year you sold larger asset JW San Francisco; can you just talk about the thought process in those few transactions and then may be comment a little bit more broadly on whether you guys in that buyers or sellers of those asset and how are you thinking about the M&A market?

Dave Kimichik

Well on Jacksonville hotel we have several hotels in Jacksonville, so for us it was an idea to eliminate some exposure to that market; it was also an unencumbered hotel we had no debt on it so we were able to sell that what we thought was an attractive price and take the cash proceeds.

On some of the other sales, there were different reasons. In some cases we had better uses of the proceeds that we could get, we felt like we could recycle that capital into higher return opportunities; the JW Marriott in San Francisco is probably an asset that a lot of our peers probably wouldn’t have sold. But when we sold it, it had some recourse debt on it and we were making an effort to remove all recourse debt from our portfolio. So by selling the hotel we were able to remove the recourse debt.

We've got a very attractive price for it which resulted in a lot of excess proceeds to us so we were able to redeploy into the Highland transaction. So we are constantly looking to recycle our capital and allocate capital where we feel like we can get the highest return and we are not tied within our assets and at the right opportunity we would sell them and we've historically been a pretty active recycler of capital and have been an active seller, we've sold over $1 billion of hotels since we've been public.

David Harris - Deutsche Bank

What kind of multiples of cap rates were you selling those assets at?

Dave Kimichik

The four hotels that we've sold this year, we sold at a combined trailing 12 EBITDA multiple of 24 times; so pretty attractive multiple here.

David Harris - Deutsche Bank

Very accretive.

Deric Eubanks

That's roughly twice as much as our current valuation on a trailing 12 months EBITDA multiple. So we really had an accretive transaction and we redeployed those assets sales for us.

Dave Kimichik

If you are buying assets or you are selling assets at 24 times trailing, you are buying at around like Highland was around 13-ish, it’s great.

David Harris - Deutsche Bank

Okay, let's talk a little bit about the, well I guess before we switch to our, so are you still looking to unload assets, or you looking at opportunistically or you actually a buyer in the market and kind of – what kind of deal flow are you sort of seeing for both sides of the equation?

Dave Kimichik

Well, we’re constantly looking at ways to increase shareholder value and we look at everything that's out there in the marketplace. From a sales standpoint, we don't have any assets that we are currently listed for sale on the market. Occasionally, we get in bound offers. We don't have anything that we are actively marketing right now.

In terms of acquisitions, we look at everything, we don't aggressively chase everything and right now the appetite for a single asset acquisition is pretty limited for us, given the size, I mean one or two assets here there doesn't really move the need for us. So I think our appetite at the moment is pretty limited for one-off acquisition opportunities.

David Harris - Deutsche Bank

And you’re seeing those larger buying opportunities come or you need to just kind of see them one-off basis here and you never just know …?

Dave Kimichik

We really feel like we’ve made sort of our two big deals in this cycle and one of those was our stock buyback which we haven’t really talked about but during the downturn we bought back 50% of our shares as when our stock was at around $3 a share. So that was a big investment for us basically, reinvesting in our existing assets. And then also the Highland deal was a large deal for us. So and we got it at a great basis. So we’re excited about that transaction as well. So we really feel like we’ve made some great investments this cycle and we’re happy with where we stand today but we are always on the look out for other opportunities and we will be opportunistic.

David Harris - Deutsche Bank

Okay. Shift over to the buyback in the balance sheet bit more or so. You bought back half the company in the last down turn and you guys recently reauthorized, increased the size of your authorized share repurchase program. Can you talk a little bit about that what you did and what the thought process was?

Dave Kimichik

Sure, the first phase, we bought back half of the company from the third quarter of 2008, through the first quarter of 2010 at an average price of $3.26. It was in hind sight a great deal. We’re very pleased with that. We stop buying in the second quarter of 2010. We recently had our board authorize additional $200 million of stock buyback authority, just in case our stock would be at a price that we will think is the best IRR for us of all the options to put up capital. And so it’s more of an option for us. I am not sure whether we are going to buy back stock, I think we have to go a little bit lower to be honest with you, but it is there in case we need it.

David Harris - Deutsche Bank

And where does it start to get really compelling to you in (inaudible)?

Dave Kimichik

I think it’s a moving target. It depends on the circumstances at the time, I mean, we will be very methodical and analytical on our approach, and whatever we feel like the projections are from a RevPAR standpoint and EBITDA standpoint on our portfolio, we will look at the expected return of buying a stock at that price at that time and make a determination whether or not we feel like it’s attractive enough for us to pull the trigger on the buybacks, but I think it will evolve with time and as projections of the future change.

David Harris - Deutsche Bank

So, even if you are not buying back the stock, we still may have some investors out there that may buy. What you’re kind of seeing for next year’s projections of (inaudible) no official guidance maybe talk in general terms and how do you think your portfolio will perform relative to that?

Dave Kimichik

I think our portfolio generally performs with the country. We have a very diversified portfolio. We are in 29 states, East Coast, West Coast, scattered out throughout the United States. So we generally perform like the country. We don’t give guidance but, there are some third party industry analysts who have given projections for next year. They are anywhere from 6.5% to 7.3% RevPAR growth, pretty dynamic. There is a lot of things that factors in that, but I’ll think they are far off if things continue to go the way they are.

David Harris - Deutsche Bank

And can you talk a little bit about your upcoming debt maturities, which one coming up in December of 11, other in April of next year?

Dave Kimichik

We have $203 million loan that’s coming due here in December of this year and we just within the last few weeks got the loan in the special servicing. It’s a securitized loan and you can’t really even get the dialog going on our restructuring, our modification until you get in the special servicing, and so we’ve just now started that dialog. We’re exchanging proposals with them and we’re hopeful we can come to a consensual restructuring on that and a bit of partial pay down and extension, but there’s a lot of different ways that could go. We might have to go in the marketplace and replacement financing orders if something else could happen. So that one sort of everything’s on the table and we’re working on it. It’s sort of front center right now. The next one is $167 million loan and that comes due in May of next year and that one, the lender says it’s too early to even talk to them about restructuring and so I think as we get closer to that maturity date, we’ll have more to report on that one.

David Harris - Deutsche Bank

And I guess regardless to what happens and here are those portfolios, anything else happened with the rest of the company or is it really just kind of containment in the boxes to those assets?

Dave Kimichik

All of our debt is non-recourse. So at the company, we have no recourse debts. So all of our debts at the property level and its all non-recourse. So that gets us a lot of flexibility when it comes to that.

David Harris - Deutsche Bank

And so can you talk also a little bit about your liquidity position, as well as you know that also comes into play here potentially for some of these debt maturities?

Dave Kimichik

At the end of the third quarter we had $180 million of cash on hand and we had additional $105 million availability on our credit facility. So we have ample liquidity to handle really any event coming up.

David Harris - Deutsche Bank

I’ve heard that you guys just reopened your preferred in the last quarter. That was after an issuance of about $84 million in the second quarter and then another almost $30 million recently, can you talk about the rational for that and how you plan to deploy those or see if you are going to pull them on your balance sheet?

Dave Kimichik

You know the preferred raise and the recent common raise as well was really part of a risk mitigation strategy. We wanted to raise some liquidity and have some liquidity just in case what’s going on in the global macroeconomy. We also viewed that cost of capital as an attractive cost relative to what we might have to get on restructuring of the loans that we have coming due and if we have to go get mez financing or something to fill the gap and mez will be a lot more expensive than that.

So we viewed that, preferred as an attractive cost relative to what we might have to get on our restructuring. So we thought it was an opportune time to raise capital and did it and have it now from a liquidity standpoint and have it in case we need to use for any of the upcoming debt maturities or any other liquidity issues that might come out.

David Harris - Deutsche Bank

So that also impacts your fixed charge coverage ratios, what does that look like right now?

Dave Kimichik

We finished the third quarter at 1.72 times fixed charge coverage ratio and we need to maintain a minimum of 1.35 5 times, so we have plenty of excess coverage.

David Harris - Deutsche Bank

Can you talk a little bit about how you think about, we talked a little bit about how you think about buying stock, how about issuing stock? We have done some of that earlier in the year. It doesn’t sound like you are thinking about that doing that near term, but can you just talk about that?

Dave Kimichik

We issued some stock in the beginning of the third quarter, we issued 7 million shares at $12.50. Today we are trading in the $8 range, $8.50 range depending on the day, so that was a good execution for us. At the time we didn't issue it for any particular purpose. We wanted to shore up the balance sheet a little bit. We had a view towards these upcoming debt maturities and we wanted to make sure we had plenty of capital available to us for that, but it was just merely a shoring up of the balance sheet and making sure we had adequate resources.

Deric Eubanks

But we were very reluctant to raise equity. I mean as we've shown through the downturn when a lot of our peers were raising equity at low prices we were buying it back and we were in a position, we were cash flow positive and able to do that, but as management and insiders are 19% of the company and we are very reluctant to raise equity. So if we are going to raise equity, we want to make sure we are doing it in a way that's going to increase value.

David Harris - Deutsche Bank

One last point on the balance sheet side and talk a little bit more about interest rates, you guys are largely seen as experts I think in the industry, you've had some great calls on that, you need to talk about historically what you've done a little bit more and what you've been doing recently, where do you think things are headed?

Dave Kimichik

Well, our interest rate strategy is really a function of our leverage strategy and our leverage strategy has been the same since we've been public which is really to maintain 50% to 60% net debt to gross assets and right now we are at about 59%. So we are at the high end of that range. But that's a little bit higher than our peers and our view on that is if we are going to have a little bit higher leverage, we are going to make sure we manage that debt from a cost standpoint and from a maturity standpoint and our maturities are well laddered and it’s all non-recourse debt, but also when we went public in 2003, we did a lot of historical analysis on whether we should be fixed rate borrower or floating rate borrower.

We looked at other hotel REITs that were public during the previous downturn and analyzed whether or not they had been better off having floating rate financing or they were doing better off having fixed rate financing. And we did a lot of historical analysis on RevPAR and LIBOR and concluded that RevPAR and LIBOR are highly correlated and it’s intuitive to ask that as hotel owner, your income stream is going to be very volatile with the economy. And then interest rates are going to be volatile with the economy.

And so we came to conclusion that we wanted to be a floating rate borrower. That made more sense and it was a natural hedge with your asset income stream. Having said we ended locking down long-term, really low cost, fixed rate debt to the CMBS market in 2006, 2007 and when we saw the downturn coming, knowing that we wanted to be a floating rate borrower, we swapped it back to floating and we did a five-year swap where we basically took all of our fixed rate debt and swapped it back to a floating rate.

And the strategy worked exactly as we expected it to. And as RevPAR dropped and our hotel income stream dropped, our debt service dropped along with it and we received the benefit of that hedge. The challenge we had was that LIBOR basically went to zero and we got to the point where we were no longer benefiting from that hedge any more and our hotel income continued to fall off.

So we went into the market place and acquired these things that we call floor doors which are basically very, they are very simple. It sounds a little complex, but it’s really, we viewed it as an insurance policy that it’s a product that is price off of the market’s forward expectations of interest rates.

And so we could look at the market and say okay, here is what the markets thinks rates are going to be a year from now. If we think, if rates are going to be lower than that that means that the economic activity is slow and our income is going to be low and we’ll make money on that. So we acquired several floor doors. We have one right now that we are still benefiting from and we will role off at the end of 2011, but the floor doors also provide substantial cash flow cushion to us and we’ll continue to receive benefits on the swap through March of 2013 and even though we did swap at the floating back in the fall of 2010, we basically reverse the swap and swapped it back to fixed. So we have removed an increase of LIBOR going up, while locking in basically the maximum benefit that we could receive on the swap which was around $32 million.

So we’ll continue to receive that on a swap through March of 2013 and we have a floor door that we are receiving $39 million of income on this year. That will burn off after the end of this year, but at the end of the day, the interest rate hedges and derivatives really worked out exactly as we wanted them to during the downturn despite the downturn being a lot worse than anyone anticipated being.

And it allowed us to be cash flow positive throughout the downturn. We never had to cut the dividend on our preferred, we cut the dividend on our common, but we didn’t have to. The dividend still was covered which is why we won’t getting any credit for in our stock price so instead use that cash and bought back stock with.

David Harris - Deutsche Bank

So you kind of crystallize all this over the last five years since what peak of the market or so, in aggregate approximately how much would you say you have made off of your interest rate hedging activity?

Dave Kimichik

By the end of the day, including what we have locked in through the swap it will probably around $230 million.

David Harris - Deutsche Bank

Any other derivatives type of activity that you guys put back?

Dave Kimichik

We are constantly looking at you don’t want to know everything we are looking at, but we are constantly looking at different ways to manage our interest rate risk and as we stand here today, we are a 100% fixed. We are a little nervous about LIBOR; we are nervous about what’s going on in Europe in the banking market and how that might spill over into just interest rate risk here. So we’re a 100% fixed today.

We have that swap in place that we’ll burn off at the end of the year that will revert back to about 60% fixed, 40% floating and most of that floating is the debt that we assumed is for the Highland transaction. But we’re constantly thinking about ways to optimize our interest rate risk and make sure we are hedged and feel comfortable with our exposure from an interest rate standpoint.

So there is nothing that we are imminent -- that we’re imminently – that we’re working on right now that is imminent, but we’re constantly looking at different ways to maximize that interest rate exposure or minimize the interest rate risk.

David Harris - Deutsche Bank

So what we just started to talk about the dividend in the last questions here talk about how you guys are thinking about dividends reinstated at year end?

Deric Eubanks

Going back to our IPO, even our dividend has always been covered dividend, we always fill some percentage of our FFO. And even in 2009 and 2010 when we suspended our dividend it was a covered dividend we want to pay in full so we instituted the dividend beginning of this year $0.10 per share, per quarter and through the third quarter it is covered on a TTM AFFO basis 4.7 times so it’s well low-covered dividend. We could go in the future if we want to.

Our dividend policy is always such that our Board gets together in December, analyzes the upcoming year, makes a determination on dividend policy for the next year and we announced at that time and so we haven’t met with our Board in that respect yet, but it’s coming up soon and we will make an announcement in the middle of December what we’re going to do for dividend for next year.

David Harris - Deutsche Bank

And maybe a little bit about CapEx as well; use of cash, free cash flow?

Deric Eubanks

Sure. We always spend more than the typical FF&E reserve on CapEx. We escrow 4.5% of gross receipts monthly for CapEx. We like to supplement that with we call it owner funding CapEx. So they come together and come up with our entire CapEx budget for the year. And by and large 4.5% doesn’t give you enough dollars to see the hotels through a cycle and at some point, we’re going to have spent more than that.

We operate hotels from a CapEx standpoint; really on the Marriott system all of our hotel rooms are on a six year refresh cycle, so carpet, drapes, bed spreads and things like that typically last five or six years, so all of our hotels are on some form of that refresh cycle and various stages. And so it’s always ongoing refreshing hotels consistently, we want to make sure our hotels are always in first-class condition even in the rough times of 2009-2010 we continued to spend owner funding on our hotels to make sure that we’re in first class condition. And by large we spend 7% to 8% every year which is typical for a company like ours to keep our hotels up in first-class conditions, I would say that just an average.

David Harris - Deutsche Bank

And you taking on any I guess value added projects at some of the hotels when you take a look at spending CapEx in that fashion? How do you think about your return on capital?

Dave Kimichik

You know I think a lot of our capital is value-add, but maybe other hotel owners won't look at it that way because we are refreshing our hotels all at once in six years, we are going to get a bump from that, renovation when it’s done. Our guess is we’re going to come into the hotel season, got a new hotel room, be able to pay more money. So I see that as value-add. But in true sense of the value-add CapEx, adding meeting space, adding a spa, adding rooms whatever we don't do a lot of that. We have a project from time-to-time here or there, but the majority of our CapEx expense, refresh your hotels and keeping them up-to-date.

David Harris - Deutsche Bank

And so, putting all that together, back together how are you guys seeing demand for your hotels? Maybe you can talk about the different types of demand, the different segment demands, types of demand, Transient group, etc.

Dave Kimichik

We as a company are predominantly at Transient House of Transient Company. We get 71% of our business from Transient, 55% of our business comes from Corporate Transient. Their corporate business is really flourishing right now. I don't see any slowdown in that. We have since the beginning of 2010 seen demand increase and it hasn't stopped, but in the third quarter we saw our average rate exceed our growth in demand and that's the first time that that's happened. It’s a normal evolution in a hotel up cycle, you will see occupancy go first and once occupancy gets to a certain point, you can start pricing your hotels little bit differently. So we saw that happen in the third quarter. I would think that as we go forward now, we’ll see more growth in our average daily rate versus our occupancy. But we are running about 74%, 75% occupancy as a company plus 124 hotels. So we’re almost maxing out what we do during the week, that we are selling a lot of Tuesday, Wednesday business. So the real growth is going to be in the. ADR.

David Harris - Deutsche Bank

Let take the battery when out here and if there is any other question from here otherwise, go ramp up. So anything I didn’t ask you that you would like to share with the audience here?

Dave Kimichik

No, I think just to sum it up. We are excited about the Highland portfolio. We think that’s a great opportunity for the company. We got no recourse debt. We are sitting on a lot of cash and lot of liquidity and we’ve got significant insider our ownership. So we’re excited about the future of the company.

David Harris - Deutsche Bank

Okay, great. Thank very much.

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