For years, people scoffed at me for not taking part in the two cornerstones of the so-called American dream: Home and car ownership.
I have not owned a home my entire life. I have not owned a car since 1999. I moved to San Francisco from Las Vegas in September of that year with a six-month old Mercury Cougar (don't laugh). That's when an urban cocktail of Jane Jacobs and James Kunstler made me fall in love with The City and cities in general.
At that point, I realized I did not need the headache and expense of parking tickets, insurance, gasoline and a monthly payment. I actually paid $3,000 to get out of my auto lease. I put my foot to the floor, darling, and I didn't look back, using my two feet, two wheels and one of the worst public transportation systems in America to get around for my seven years in San Francisco. Great times. I moved to Orange County, Los Angeles and, now, Santa Monica and, not once, did I fret over not owning a car as well as a home.
In fact, simply not having these two ball-and-chain expenses afforded me the opportunity to do so many things in life that I would not have been able to do with a mortgage payment, car payment and the various attendant expenses. First, I could have never lived in some of the most expensive and beautiful places in the world as a home and car owner. Second, I could not have traveled across North America as I have for the past 18 years. And, third, I probably would have had to pass on many of the discretionary purchases I have made in my life.
Some qualifiers ... This is not a swipe at home or car owners. I know tons of people set for life because of real estate. And I dig a $50,000 luxury car as much as the next guy. And millions of suburban homeowners and urban condo dwellers with notes rake in a lot more cash than I do. That's not what this is about. Rather, it's about recognizing the opportunity that exists to buy stocks that, in some fashion, target upper middle class to downright affluent urban renters. The urban renter lifestyle lends itself to certain behaviors that could contribute to upside in the following companies.
I found my soul mate while reading an article in The Wall Street Journal the other day. Here's what UDR CEO Tom Toomey told the newspaper:
We think it's a good time to buy New York ... The financial district is coming back ... The restaurants will come. The retail will be there. With all that vibrancy, I think it's going to be a great spot to have rental properties.
This outlook echoes my somewhat bearish thoughts on recent IPO Teavana (TEA) and my bullishness toward the trend of major retailers looking to locate in metropolitan cores.
Not only is UDR loading up on Manhattan residential property, but it, as The Journal notes, "decided to pull out of much of Middle America to focus on coastal cities where younger renters would pay more rent." Amen. Shrewd and brilliant (expletive with an "ing" at the end) move.
When that article hit, UDR closed at $24.38. It now trades for around $24.93 and, for some reason, the company's CEO, Tom Toomey, has to "defend... the real estate investment trust's acquisition strategy":
UDR spent $1.2 billion on apartment complexes in New York City in 2011 and early this year. It also carried out a $500 million asset exchange to increase its holdings in San Francisco and Boston, and sold of $594 million worth of "non-core assets."
"These transactions improved the company's portfolio by increasing our ownership interests in markets characterized by above-average job growth, low home affordability, below-average new supply risk and superior revenue growth and return prospects." Toomey said in a news release Monday.
Some people just do not get it. Toomey isn't one of them. He sees the future. Sort of like that guy from Netflix (NFLX).
Public Storage (PSA). I have been bullish on renting as an investment thesis for some time. It's a pretty common sense approach. You have an urban rebirth that has been going on for years, combined with a housing crisis resulting in mass foreclosures and a flood of new renters. People need a place to put all of the crap they accumulated while they were chasing the runaway American dream. You cannot sell everything you own on Craigslist.
On April 4, 2011, I introduced PSA for consideration. PSA closed at $111.73 on that day. As of this writing, it trades for $136.14, just down from its 52-week high of $141.48. You get a nice dividend and consistent top and bottom line growth. For a long-term investor I am not sure what's not to like.
Apple (AAPL). No article on urban dwelling stocks is complete without a mention of Apple. There's not much to state other than the obvious. People with discretionary income spend it at Apple. Lots of urban renters have discretionary income.
Here in Santa Monica, the Apple retail store generates about $1 million in sales per day. Soon a new store will open in Santa Monica, in typical Apple fashion, because the present location simply cannot handle the traffic.
Zipcar (ZIP). I am putting ZIP on my watch list. When I was at the University of California in Irvine (Orange County, CA), I used Zipcar from time to time. Great service. Sort of like that DVD-by-mail company, but I am not all that certain about the business model.
I need to know a bit more about the company's procedure of leasing its automobile fleet and then exercising lease-end options after 36 months. Here's a note from ZIP's latest 10-Q on the subject:
The company also leases vehicles under various capital and operating leases, generally with a 36-month stated term. Under the terms of certain leases, the company guarantees the residual value of the vehicle at the end of the lease. If the wholesale fair value of the vehicle is less than the guaranteed residual value at the end of the lease, the company will pay the lessor the difference. If the wholesale fair value is greater than the guaranteed residual value, that difference will be paid to the company. As of September 30, 2011, the average guaranteed residual value was 26.8% of the vehicle price at the inception of the lease. The company believes that, based on current market conditions, the average wholesale value of the vehicles at the end of lease term will equal or exceed the average guaranteed residual value, and therefore has not recorded a liability related to guaranteed residual values.
Sounds great, but, clearly, I should have paid closer attention when I was leasing that Mercury Cougar in suburban Las Vegas. Herein lies the greatness of Seeking Alpha. You can always count on the most sophisticated audience in existence to offer up strong opinions and sound information in the comments. What, if anything, should concern me about an investment in ZIP, as it screams growth bargain near its low?
Additional disclosure: I am long NFLX June $40 put options.