Whenever I hear news reports regarding the U.S. rental market, whether urban legend or not, I tend to remember stories about people sleeping in their cars and showering at companies based in the San Francisco Metro Area. Recently the world has learned that the same principles apply to Washington, D.C. Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, admitted that he sleeps at his office, and showers at the gym. Well, the next thought that comes to mind is that of Essex Properties Trust.
There are not many multifamily REITs that have the ability to enjoy tailwinds as well as Essex. This Palo Alto, California-based company primarily invests in the same state that it is based out of. Essex has surfed the wave of the housing rental industry with high-end apartments. The company’s success has been fueled by a combination of millennials postponing their first home purchase, shortage of supply, and a presence in housing markets that enjoy high levels of job creation. There is no wonder that Essex made it to the top in our Q2 US equity ranking amongst apartment REITs.
Year over year Q3 figures are once again proof as to why this company shines in the sector. Essex has shown a 15 percent increase in Core FFO per share, 10 percent growth in same property net operating income, 12 percent bump in total revenues, and an 11 percent rise in their dividend per share. In summary, these figures are extremely similar to the results in Q2 that catapulted the company to the top.
Essex owns and operates 245 properties totaling 58,000 homes that are divided into three areas: Southern CA, Northern CA, and the Seattle, Washington Metro Area.
The company’s multifamily fundamentals could not be any better for businesses that operate on the West Coast. There have been several recent reports that name Florida metro areas as the best place for job growth, however not all jobs are equal especially in salaries. That being said, San Jose, CA has emerged as a region with one of the highest paying job creation potential.
The cities in which Essex operates have been flagged as areas where demand is greater than supply. There do not seem to be any signs that this will change anytime soon. For example, many of the most expensive single-family home prices are in San Francisco, San Jose, and Oakland. Coldwell Banker formulated a list of the most expensive housing markets in 2014, and an incredible 9 out of 10 were in California. Renting as opposed to purchasing homes in those areas simply makes sense at this time.
When compared with its peers, Essex enjoys the highest same store net operating growth. In Q2, the company shared that title with Trade Street Residential, however that company was acquired by Independence Trust Realty in Q3 this year.
In most cases higher levels of leverage are linked to larger levels of default, however this is not a problem for Essex. The company certainly has a great debt profile with a total debt to total capitalization of 26 percent, one of the lowest in the apartment sector. Essex maintains the majority of its debt fixed to in order to reduce interest rate sensitivity. In addition, a significant portion of the debt is unsecured. The company has received investment grade ratings by three credit agencies, and last June Standard & Poor’s reaffirmed their BBB rating, “The outlook is positive. We believe favorable multifamily fundamentals will persist over the near term, with steady demand and manageable new supply in most of Essex’s core markets.”
A potential tech bubble burst may pose a threat to multifamily properties in Northern California, an area that generates approximately 40 percent of Essex’s net operating income. At last week’s NAREIT conference, Essex made the case for themselves that consolidated industry giants such as Google, Apple, and Cisco create far more jobs than billion dollar startups. Following that thought, analysts that are concerned about the strength of the fundamentals should shift their focus away from the riskier tech companies and towards the more mature.
Essex’s stock yield is currently at 2.5 percent, which is below the sector median of 3.5 percent. The stock does not appear to be attractive, however it needs to be taken into consideration that its total return is close to 12 percent year to date. Having invested in a low yield stock is not necessarily a bad thing after all.
Essex’s price-to-FFO, a P/E for REITs is 24x, higher than most of the company’s peers. This is a sign that Essex has been able to weather the storm of the REIT selloffs.
The apartment sector has been a top performer in terms of cash flow and profitability. Essex Properties have been one of the sector’s most coveted representatives. What was an expensive stock has become more expensive. Despite a high valuation and low yield, the company has been able to deliver stellar performance to its shareholders.
Source: Fast Graphs, Essex Properties Trust (NYSE:ESS)
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Disclosure: The author has no positions in any shares mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.