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Post Properties, Inc. (NYSE:PPS)

Q4 2007 Earnings Call

February 5, 2008 10:00 am ET

Executives

Janie S. Maddox – Senior Vice President, Community & Public Relations

Janie Maddox – Senior Vice President of Communications

David P. Stockert – President & CEO

Thomas L. Wilkes – Executive Vice President, President & Post Apartment Management

Thomas D. Senkbeil – Executive Vice President & Chief Investment Officer

Christopher J. Papa – Executive Vice President & Chief Financial Officer

Analysts

Kristin O’Connor – Morgan Stanley

Louis W. Taylor – Deutsche Banc Alex Brown

Alexander Goldfarb – UBS

Mark Byford – Goldman Sachs

David Harris – Lehman Brothers

Justin [Inaudible] - Bank of America

[Craig Muncer] – Citigroup

Michael Selinsky – RBC Capital Markets

Karin Ford – Key Bank Capital Markets

Operator

Good day everyone and welcome to the Post Properties fourth quarter 2007 earnings conference call. This call is being recorded. Today’s answer and question session will be conducted electronically. (Operator Instructions) At this time I’d like to turn the call over to Ms. Janie Maddox, Senior Vice President of Communications for opening remarks and introductions. Please go ahead.

Janie S. Maddox

Good morning and welcome to the Post Properties fourth quarter conference call. I’m Janie Maddox, Senior Vice President of Communication and External Affairs for Post Properties. With me today are Dave Stockert, CEO and President, Tom Wilkes, President of Post Apartment Management, Tom Senkbeil, Chief Investment Officer and Chris Papa, Chief Financial Officer.

Before we begin the business of this call let me reference the appropriate Safe Harbor statement. Statements contained in this conference regarding expected operating results including expected same store revenues and other events are forward-looking statements that involve risk and uncertainty. Actual future events or results may differ materially from these statements. Such forward-looking statements are made pursuant to the Safe Harbor Provision of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995 and are made based on management’s current expectations or beliefs as well as assumptions made by and information currently available to management. A variety of factors could cause actual results to differ materially from those anticipated including future economic conditions including interest rates, local real estate conditions, development and construction activities, our level of debt, the availability of financing, the timing, amount and use of proceeds from our assets sales, uncertainties associated with the company’s expansion into the condominium conversion and for-sale housing business, uncertainties surrounding the process currently underway to pursue a potential sale of the company and other factors discussed in our filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission including important risk factors regarding the company which are included under the caption Risk Factors in the company’s Annual Report on Form 10K dated December 31, 2006.

During this call management will briefly address the company’s announcement regarding the commencement of a process to pursue a potential sale. There can be no assurance that the process will ultimately result in a sale or other business combination. Post Properties undertakes no obligation to update any information discussed on this conference call. During this call we discuss certain non-GAAP financial measures, reconciliation of these non-GAAP financial measures to the most comparable GAAP financial measures can be found in our earnings release and our supplemental financial data. Both documents will be available through the Investor Relations financial report quarterly and other section of the company’s website at www.PostProperties.com. This call is now live on our website and will also be recorded and available for playback on our website.

I’ll now turn it over to Dave Stockert.

David P. Stockert

Good morning everyone. As you know on January 23rd we announced the commencement of a formal process to pursue a possible sale of the company and to seek proposals from interested parties. That process is underway and involves substantial company, investment banking and legal resources and personnel. We said in the press announcement that we do not expect to disclose further information on the status of the process until it’s been completed. Consistent with that statement I won’t be discussing details of the process or its status and will not be addressing questions regarding the process on today’s call. I can say, however, that our board and management are 100% committed to the process, to moving it forward expeditiously and to broadly encouraging bids. Because of the potential impact of the process on our operations and near term capital plan we will not be giving earnings or FFO guidance for the first quarter or full year of 2008. Potential bidders who execute confidentiality agreements will of course be given access to detailed operating, financial and other information.

Because top line revenue numbers should not be impacted by the process I will speak to our expectations for same store revenue growth in 2008. For the full year 2008 we expect year-over-year growth in same store property revenues of 3 to 3.5%. We are continuing to run our business as usual and our associates are highly focused and engaged in day-to-day operations and on preparing the data needed to assists potential bidders.

I’ll now turn to fourth quarter actual operating results. For the quarter we produced year-over-year same store NOI growth of 4.3% ahead of our previously issued guidance. On a sequential basis same store NOI increased by 3.7% again, ahead of our previous guidance. Lower property expenses in particular favorable tax settlements contributed to the better than expected result. For the full year NOI grew by 4.7%. Although we expect top line revenue growth to moderate in 2008 tracking the national economy our business fundamentals are sound. As one indication average economic occupancy was 140 basis points higher in the fourth quarter of 2007 than it was in the same period a year ago. Our condominium business performed in line with our expectations. We had solid sales activity at Carlyle in Alexandria, Virginia and at Mercer Square in Uptown Dallas where we closed a total of 38 contracts in the fourth quarter. We continue to experience a slower pace of sales at our conversion properties in Tampa and Houston and have adjusted expected prices accordingly.

Last month we commenced construction of the Four Seasons Residences in Austin. Austin has one of the stronger housing markets in the country and pre-sale activity has been very good. We’ve written contracts on nearly a third of the units representing nearly 40% of the aggregate sales revenue. Our share of total investment committed to condominium developments and conversions totals about $220 million and remains well under 10% of total asset value. The company’s total pipeline of projects under construction including apartments and condominiums and net of joint venture partner interests is $540 million. We expect to pace future construction starts so that our ratio of debt plus preferred stock to undepreciated real assets remains in a range of not more than 50 to 55% pro forma for unspent but committed construction costs. We have been self financing our development through asset sales.

In the past two months we closed the sale of three Atlanta and Dallas apartment communities. We also contributed another Atlanta community to an existing joint venture. These transactions produced roughly $133 million in gross proceeds and an average cap rate of about 5.25%. In January we closed a permanent mortgage loan with Freddie Mac for $120 million. The seven year loan carries an interest of 4.88%. Even in the current credit environment we believe there is capital interested in acquiring multi-family assets in part because well priced agency financing remains available. As a result of our asset sale joint venture and refinancing activity our line balance at January 31st was reduced to $85 million. This gives us roughly $545 million of liquidity under our lines of credit to finance our business while we pursue a possible sale of the company. We have very little refinancing to do this year, including debt on assets held in joint ventures we have only $22 million maturing through the entire remainder of 2008.

As we’ve discussed on previous calls we had been working on a development joint venture with an institutional partner totaling several hundred million dollars. That joint venture was under letter of intent but has been put on hold pending the outcome of the process to seek a possible sale of the company. We were also preparing to list for sale our two New York City assets. That proposed sale has likewise been put on hold. We are however continuing to market two Atlanta assets for sale with approximately 750 units and averages well north of 15 years. Gross proceeds are expected to be about $100 million. These two are the only asset sales we contemplate making pending the outcome of the process.

Finally I’m sure you are aware that hedge fund has nominated an alternate slate of five proposed directors for consideration by shareholders at the 2008 annual meeting. I will not have any comment on that proposed slate and will not be taking questions about it on today’s call.

To close I want to say a word to our associates. Throughout this process Post associates are conducting themselves like the professionals that they are. I am not at all surprised. I want to thank them especially for their dedication and hard work. That concludes our prepared remarks. Operator, please open the phone lines to Q&A.

Question-and-Answer Session

Operator

(Operator Instructions) We’ll take our first question from Kristin O’Connor with Morgan Stanley.

Kristin O’Connor – Morgan Stanley

Just a question on the revenue guidance for 2008, what economic scenarios are you assuming underlying the 3 to 3.5% revenue growth?

David P. Stockert

The existing one that has a slower U.S. economy.

Kristin O’Connor – Morgan Stanley

So, no recession?

David P. Stockert

I would hate to say that we’re that precise.

Kristin O’Connor – Morgan Stanley

And if in 2008 we have a recession scenario like in 2001, what would 2009 growth look like in your minds?

David P. Stockert

I honestly don’t know. You’re asking a question I can’t – what is the depth of the recession? What is the length of the recession? What we don’t have today that we had the last time around was as much multi-family supply coming on. What we don’t also have that we had the last time around and maybe this will change is the movement of people from rentership to the home ownership. So I’d say things are different and what we would predict for 2009 is not something we’re able to do.

Kristin O’Connor – Morgan Stanley

Can you just talk a little bit about the Florida markets? It looks like they deteriorated a little more in 4Q07. What’s your outlook for those markets in 2008?

Thomas L. Wilkes

2008 those would range at the bottom end. Our range of guidance against the markets. They’re generally flat. They’re still working through the over supply issues in the primarily single-family vacancy in Tampa, in Orlando is about 6 to 7%. Given the fact that those single-family permits are down 50 to 60% we do anticipate that on a long-term basis they’ll still be very vibrant markets.

Kristin O’Connor – Morgan Stanley

Is that the competition from single-family rentals?

David P. Stockert

Yes. Significant portion of the single-family surplus is being put into the rental pool. There is very little multi-family rental competition coming into the market. Only 1.3% in Tampa. It’s slightly larger in Orlando at 3.4% but in both cases multi-family permit and as I mentioned single-family permitting is down.

Operator

Our next question comes from Lou Taylor with Deutsche Bank.

Louis W. Taylor – Deutsche Banc Alex Brown

David could you just talk about Q4 expenses in the same store pool and what drove some of the big changes this year over last year?

David P. Stockert

Our guidance was that they would be up 7.9 to 8.5 but as you see they were up 4.2% which is $891,000. Our insurance continues to be up as we renewed our policy in May of last year. So that 33% negative variance to prior year comparables will continue through May of next year. Then in taxes although we predicted they would be up more they were up 5% year-over-year and then finished the year up 5% year-over-year. The 4.2% variance $891,000 the two primary drivers were insurance $337,000 and taxes $332,000.

Louis W. Taylor – Deutsche Banc Alex Brown

Tom can you talk a little bit how they may sell in terms of market? As you can see you got D.C. up 21, Tampa down 7, Charlotte up 14, New York up 15. Do you have expense true ups in there? What’s kind of driving the big market differences?

Thomas L. Wilkes

In Washington, D.C. that was a 21.7% increase $479,000. That’s really all taxes. We had $399,000 negative comparison on taxes but that was primarily driven by a $377,000 positive variance or positive adjustment in 2006. And then the downward adjustment for the decline in expenses in Tampa and Charlotte were both driven by tax adjustments and then in New York the 15.8% increase was driven by a tax adjustment also. So what you see is year end accrual adjustments because we were able to resolve some property taxes at year end. But remember that if you’re looking at this year end then you’re also looking back at adjustments that have been made in the fourth quarter of the prior year. So you tend to see a great deal of fluctuation in the operating expenses which are driven by these end of year property tax adjustments.

Louis W. Taylor – Deutsche Banc Alex Brown

Dave can you talk a little bit about the condo sales? It looks like you’re at, in terms of the pricing, is coming under your, at least your transfer prices. Right now where are your condo prices relative to your original budgets on average? Are you flat? Are you down 5, down 10? Can you give us a sense for that?

David P. Stockert

I think if you look at the two conversion projects the cumulative of those two are at a loss for the conversion to the transfer price. So obviously those are under our expectations. I think from a standpoint of Carlyle and Mercer – Tom do you want to just…

Thomas L. Wilkes

Carlyle in particular we’re running still well above our original pro forma on that and continuing to get sales. We’re averaging a little bit over $500 per square foot for our sales prices. And at Worthington we’re very much in line with our projections.

Louis W. Taylor – Deutsche Banc Alex Brown

Mercer Squares.

Thomas L. Wilkes

Mercer Square.

Louis W. Taylor – Deutsche Banc Alex Brown

And then Dave lastly, in terms of the Austin condo Four Seasons project you just started how firm are those presale commitments? What’s the size of the deposits?

David P. Stockert

We’re generally collecting 10% deposits and these are fairly expensive units so it’s very sizable absolute deposit commitment. That project benefits from its location from the Four Seasons brand from its hotel services although it’s got its own set of amenities and high quality. It’s being very well received.

Louis W. Taylor – Deutsche Banc Alex Brown

Is that deposit refundable?

David P. Stockert

No.

Operator

Our next question is from Alex Goldfarb with UBS.

Alexander Goldfarb – UBS

I realize that you guys aren’t going to talk about how the process is going but if you could just elaborate on how you came to arrive at the decision to pursue strategic alternatives.

David P. Stockert

We’re not going to talk about any of that on today’s call. We’ve said all the material information is in the press announcement that we made and the comments [inaudible].

Alexander Goldfarb – UBS

Okay. Then as far as some clarification then on the proxy dates. In the proxy it says that you can file up until February 24th but then there’s language alluding to February 19th. Which is the correct cutoff date?

David P. Stockert

I believe its February 24th date. I’m not sure what February 19th is that you’re referring to.

Alexander Goldfarb – UBS

It’s on the backside on page 53 of the proxy. Going back to your third quarter call you guys spoke about expectations for sequential revenue to be sort of flattish or to flatten out I should say and they were in fact down. If you could just comment sort of what changed from when you spoke on your third quarter call to the year end.

David P. Stockert

The specific guidance , are you speaking to same store revenue or overall?

Alexander Goldfarb – UBS

I believe the comment were to the same store sequential.

David P. Stockert

In the earnings release we said that the guidance was a negative .2 to a positive .3 and as it turned out we were a negative .7. So we were 50 basis points outside the guidance although we exceeded the NOI guidance on a sequential on a year-over-year basis. What happens is that we anticipated a slightly greater pricing power. Our average rental rate still did grow by 0.6%. We anticipated we would be able to grow that slightly more.

Alexander Goldfarb – UBS

On the corporate expense that’s listed in your NAB break out. This quarter is like 4.6 million, last quarter is 3.6. Is it just quarterly variation or is there a run rate that we should use in normalizing that amount?

David P. Stockert

Two things, last quarter there was some true up to our variable compensation program so the shareholder value plan we talked about for that had some impact on reducing that number last quarter and then there was just some other period costs that hit in the fourth quarter as well.

Alexander Goldfarb – UBS

Final question just relates to the condos. Can you just talk about the difference between selling conversions versus new condos? It seems like the new condo deals may be a little better in the sales market than conversions. If you could just elaborate on that.

David P. Stockert

I don’t think it [inaudible] the newer conversions to the market and one of the conversions we have is in Tampa and that market has turned very flat, very slow and then Houston, the rise. We’ve always anticipated that it would be a relatively slow. The two we have that are excelling in Uptown Dallas in Mercer which is very well priced within the community compared to what’s available and then Carlyle is in a very employment zone frankly without a great deal of condo supply around.

Operator

Our next question comes from Mark Byford with Goldman Sachs.

Mark Byford – Goldman Sachs

First question for you, in terms of refinancing or for incremental debt issuance for 2008 given the Fed rate cuts, what are your expectations to issue debt versus doing additional asset sales?

David P. Stockert

As I said, Mark, we really are on hold on any of that. We did the refinancing that we had coming up when we did the loan on Addison Circle with Freddie Mac. We don’t have much at all coming due. So we’re not going to be doing debt refinancings pending this process because obviously there would be a financing component to any sale of the business on its own.

Mark Byford – Goldman Sachs

Also I guess this ties to the Fed actions, what’s the traffic patterns been like at your condo projects and has it picked up since then? Are consumers anticipating lower rates?

David P. Stockert

As Tom said, it’s market by market. We’ve seen very good consistent traffic in Alexandria and there’s a little bit of life in Tampa I’d say. But it’s still very, very slow. So you just contrast those two markets.

Mark Byford – Goldman Sachs

I also noticed that your NOI exposure to Atlanta went up during the quarter but you sold three assets and you plan to sell two more. Where do you expect NOI exposure to be at the end of the first quarter?

David P. Stockert

It will be recast because we’ll be adding other properties to that. The reason it would have gone up from quarter to quarter is because I think at the end of last quarter, Mark, we had those assets that we sold were probably held-for-sale so they wouldn’t have been in the same store last quarter either. It may very well be that just the Atlanta relative performance to the NOI accounts for the difference you’re looking at. But we would expect that Atlanta as a percentage of the total NOI would continue to drop.

Mark Byford – Goldman Sachs

Is there any likelihood of additional land sale gains given that the business combination going forward?

David P. Stockert

We’ve got a few little land parcels that are always in process but it’s just hard to predict.

Operator

Next we’ll go to Dave Harris with Lehman Brothers.

David Harris – Lehman Brothers

Tom, question for you, could you just talk about concessions across the portfolio? Are they stable? Are you seeing them rise in any of the markets?

Thomas L. Wilkes

Concessions are very small. If you’ll remember we’re on a revenue management software which really takes concessions out of the marketplace. The best proxy for strength of rental rates is really what occurs in the effective rates. If you look on a year-over-year basis we were up 3% and on a sequential basis we were up 0.6%.

David Harris – Lehman Brothers

Any comments as to the competitive landscape? Are you seeing some of the landlords in some of the markets introduce concessions?

Thomas L. Wilkes

We see a lot of our competitors that are moving towards the same revenue management models that we are. We see some concessions in the markets that you might suspect which would be D.C. and Florida but in general markets are holding pretty tight. People are adjusting rents using revenue management systems versus an all-out concession war and even worse prorating concessions.

David Harris – Lehman Brothers

Dave, back to you if I may. I’m mindful of your no comments about the process. Is it possible at all for you to give us an idea of the time scale involved in the decision making?

David P. Stockert

Not really, David. Again that’s one of the details that we can’t predict. As I said in the remarks we’re moving expeditiously.

David Harris – Lehman Brothers

So I think I and other people are clear on this. What I’m hearing is that with the exception of the two sales that you referenced effectively anything other than the day-to-day business for the company is being put on hold?

David P. Stockert

The development pipeline construction activities that would be part of day-to-day would be continuing. But yes in terms of other joint ventures or other assets sales apart from the two I mentioned, major financings, etcetera, the focus is on the process, not on those things.

David Harris – Lehman Brothers

So the imperative then is to come to a speedy decision on the –

David P. Stockert

That’s correct.

Operator

Justin [Inaudible] with Bank of America your line is open.

Justin [Inaudible] - Bank of America

Just a follow up on some of the questions on the revenue guidance. Given that it’s about 100 basis points lower in this quarter at the midpoint, aside from Florida which other markets are you expecting to be weak this year?

David P. Stockert

If you want to move from the bottom to the top, we’ve mentioned Florida. The next one up from there would be D.C. Again, overall a still strong market but just working through some over supply. Where given the weakness in some of the condo pockets there have been some properties that were designed and built to be condos but have been converted to four room apartments. We’re working through some over supply issues in the D.C. area. The good news is that the completions are supposed to be less than 1% so we should have a nice recovery in the latter states of 08 and 09 in D.C. The next up from there would be Charlotte and Atlanta. Those would be more in the mid range of our guidance and then above the guidance would be Dallas and Austin and then Houston and New York.

Justin [Inaudible] - Bank of America

Outside of Florida do you expect any markets to turn negative?

David P. Stockert

No.

Justin [Inaudible] - Bank of America

Just turning over to cap rates it looks like on the dispositions in the fourth quarter as you mentioned they were up 40 bips from the first half of last year. Can you just quickly comment on the make up of those buyers and then more generally what you’re seeing right now as far as cap rates go?

David P. Stockert

I’ll let Tom talk about the make up of the buyers but the fourth quarter dispositions are different because they included a couple of much older assets. We would say that those dispositions were made at pricing no different than would have been achieved early in the year. Whether prices have moved today or not that’s a different question. I’ll let Tom talk about the buyers.

Thomas L. Wilkes

For the ones we did in the fourth quarter which was certainly after the sub prime meltdown the buyers were probably not really any different than what we’ve experienced before. They were good quality buyers either institutional pension fund types or regional companies teamed up with institutional buyers probably using agency debt for maybe two thirds of the price and equity for the remainder.

Justin [Inaudible] - Bank of America

Lastly on Post Carlyle you guys may have talked about it, but where did the stabilized [inaudible] come in there and how does that compare to where you underwrote that development? On the rental side of it.

David P. Stockert

We don’t disclose the specific yields but our rental revenue was right in line actually slightly above. We’re at 248 and we had originally projected 245 and our costs are in line with our expectations.

Operator

Our next question comes from [Craig Muncer] with Citi.

[Craig Muncer] – Citigroup

On the two asset sales you’re planning currently what’s the sub process on selling those versus not buying those like you do on some of the New York assets?

David P. Stockert

We think that those particular assets, obviously we have a significant concentration in Atlanta and we don’t think for example it changes the prospects of any buyer by selling those and we want to obviously have continued funds to continue our operations. The New York assets we will really let any potential buyer make the decision about what they want to do with those assets. They may find those attractive they may decide to sell them.

[Craig Muncer] – Citigroup

At that price, I think it’s $100 million, what would that equate to roughly in terms of cap rates?

David P. Stockert

Craig, we expect those to be in the 5.25 to 5.5 range trailing NOI.

[Craig Muncer] – Citigroup

What would that have traded for a year ago?

David P. Stockert

Same.

[Craig Muncer] – Citigroup

Just on the fourth quarter revenue numbers, Tom you mentioned the pricing was a little softer than you thought. Just on the physical occupancy it seem to have went down to 93.8 at the end of the year versus a little over 95 at the end of 3Q, was that in line with your expectations?

Thomas L. Wilkes

Yes. Our markets are generally going to generally experience a slight softness in October, November, December, January time frame and then with spring comes a significant increase in traffic so that by the second quarter our leasing activity generally picks up about 40 to 50% over the leasing activity in the fourth and first quarter. Bear in mind also with respect to physical occupancy that given lease termination fees that generally economic occupancy is about 50 to 60 basis points higher than physical occupancy.

Operator

Next we’ll go to Michael Selinsky with RBC Capital Markets.

Michael Selinsky – RBC Capital Markets

You touched on the revenue side and you also mentioned the tax benefits you had in the fourth quarter since they were [inaudible] adjustments. Can you talk about what your expense outlook is for 08?

David P. Stockert

We’re not making an estimate on property operating expenses for 08 because of the process and you may wonder well what would affect property operating expenses? And I’ll give you an example. One example might be that we are looking at whether we’re going to accelerate some expense property painting that would normally have occurred in 09 and accelerate it into 08 given that we’re in a process of seeking proposals on a sale of the business and the portfolio.

Michael Selinsky – RBC Capital Markets

Secondly it looks like you added three projects to the pre-development pipeline. Can you talk about what you’re seeing in terms of land and construction costs right now?

David P. Stockert

Land and construction costs are pretty stable. I’d say some land pricing has come down particularly in Florida markets although we’re not necessarily seeking things there at present. Construction prices for wood frame product have moved down somewhat which is a positive. I’m not really seeing any change in concrete and steel related construction.

Michael Selinsky – RBC Capital Markets

Looking at two condo conversion projects are there any adjustments or true ups in those in the fourth quarter?

David P. Stockert

Yes there were. You’ll see from a quarterly perspective were both negative during the quarter because we did true ups on some sales prices.

Michael Selinsky – RBC Capital Markets

Finally you mentioned in D.C. you had a seen a number of condo projects coming back in the market essentially as rental. Can you talk about that and what you’re seeing as far as condo development across the rest of your markets reverting back to rental?

David P. Stockert

In Washington, D.C. that’s been one of the few cases where we’ve seen entire projects convert. We haven’t seen that in Tampa and Orlando. What we see in Tampa and Orlando is what would be referred to as the shadow rental which is both single-family and condo owners who are renting their units out on an individual basis.

Operator

We’ll take our final question from Karin Ford with Key Bank Capital Markets.

Karin Ford – Key Bank Capital Markets

Just two cap rate questions for you. Was there a variance in cap rates? I know you said you got a 5.25 on the asset sales in Atlanta and Dallas. Was there a difference between those two markets in cap rates or were they all about the same level?

David P. Stockert

Any differences in cap rates would really be attributable to either age or particulars of the property. Sub market and that sort of thing. I wouldn’t say there’s a generalized pricing difference between those two markets.

Unidentified Male

I’d have to say they’re pretty similar.

Karin Ford – Key Bank Capital Markets

Next question. Can you guys talk about the cap rates that you were either under contract with or were expecting to achieve on the joint venture on the New York City sales that you were contemplating but put on hold?

David P. Stockert

Not really. No we aren’t going to comment.

Operator

Ladies and gentlemen that does conclude today’s question and answer session. For closing and additional remarks I’d like to turn the all back over to Mr. Dave Stockert.

David P. Stockert

Thank you all for joining us and I’m sure we will be communicating in the future.

Operator

This does conclude today’s conference. We appreciate your participation. You may now disconnect.

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