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Edited Transcript of ARI earnings conference call or presentation 14-Feb-19 3:00pm GMT

Q4 2018 Apollo Commercial Real Estate Finance Inc Earnings Call

New York Feb 19, 2019 (Thomson StreetEvents) -- Edited Transcript of Apollo Commercial Real Estate Finance Inc earnings conference call or presentation Thursday, February 14, 2019 at 3:00:00pm GMT

TEXT version of Transcript

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Corporate Participants

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* Jai Agarwal

Apollo Commercial Real Estate Finance, Inc. - CFO, Treasurer & Secretary

* Stuart A. Rothstein

Apollo Commercial Real Estate Finance, Inc. - President, CEO & Director

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Conference Call Participants

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* Benjamin Ira Zucker

BTIG, LLC, Research Division - Analyst

* Jade Joseph Rahmani

Keefe, Bruyette, & Woods, Inc., Research Division - Director

* James Young

West Family Investments, Inc. - Investment Analyst

* Kenneth Matthew Bruce

BofA Merrill Lynch, Research Division - MD

* Richard Barry Shane

JP Morgan Chase & Co, Research Division - Senior Equity Analyst

* Stephen Albert Laws

Raymond James & Associates, Inc., Research Division - Research Analyst

* Steven Cole Delaney

JMP Securities LLC, Research Division - MD, Director of Specialty Finance Research and Senior Research Analyst

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Presentation

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Operator [1]

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I'd like to remind everyone that today's call and webcast is being recorded. Please note that they are the property of the Apollo Commercial Real Estate Finance, Inc., and that any unauthorized broadcast in any form is strictly prohibited. Information about the audio replay of this call is available in our earnings press release. I'd also like to call your attention to the customary safe harbor disclosure in our press release regarding forward-looking statements.

Today's conference call and webcast may include forward-looking statements and projections, and we ask that you refer to our recent filings with the SEC for important factors that cause actual results to differ materially from these statements and projections.

In addition, we will be discussing certain non-GAAP measures on this call, while management believes are relevant to assessing the company's financial performance and reconciled to GAAP figures in our earnings press release, which is available on the Investor Relations section of our website. We do not undertake any obligation to update our forward-looking statements or projections unless required by law.

To obtain copies of our latest SEC filings, please visit our website at www.apolloreit or call us at (212) 515-3200.

At this time, I would like to turn the call over to the company's Chief Executive Officer, Stuart Rothstein. Sir, you may begin.

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Stuart A. Rothstein, Apollo Commercial Real Estate Finance, Inc. - President, CEO & Director [2]

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Thank you, operator, and good morning to those of you joining us on the ARI Fourth Quarter and Full Year 2018 Earnings Call. Joining me in New York this morning, as usual, are Scott Weiner and Jai Agarwal.

As we enter ARI's 10th year in the commercial real estate finance business, we are very proud of the platform we have built. Based upon our best-in-class relationships with borrowers and brokers as well as our well-earned reputation as a reliable, thoughtful and creative capital source, we firmly believe that the Apollo team has established a leading position in the market.

The strength of the platform was evidenced by another record year of lending activity for ARI as the company completed $3 billion of loan originations in 2018, a 50% increase over 2017. The power of the platform was further evidenced by the diversity of deal types, property types and geographies represented in ARI's 2018 book of business. Our ability to understand complex business plans, effectively structure and underwrite deals and execute quickly enabled ARI to complete 27 unique loan transactions during the year. ARI's average transaction size exceeded $100 million for the first time in 2018 as the continued expansion of its capital base enables ARI to source and participate in larger transactions.

Through Apollo's extensive network of existing relationships as well as recently formed one, ARI expanded its footprint in several new domestic markets during the year.

In addition, our international presence grew as our London-based team completed approximately $600 million of lending activity on behalf of ARI. At year-end, investments in the U.K. represented approximately 14% of ARI's portfolio.

Another key aspect of the platform is our ability to source transactions by co-originating with like-minded senior lenders, including our repo providers. In these situations, we either structure pari passu senior loans or create attractive senior, junior structures. In either case, we believe our ability to work collaboratively and be diligent and thoughtful in underwriting and structuring has enabled us to repeatedly win mandates alongside our partners.

Turning to ARI's capital markets activities, there are few items of note from 2018. We continue to focus on ways to improve ARI's balance sheet, including expanding capital sources, extending the maturities of liabilities and, when possible, lowering the all-in cost of capital. ARI's capital base grew by $500 million during the year through the combination of a common stock offering as well as the issuance of common stock for the conversion of our 2019 convertible notes. Both of those equity issuances were executed at notable premiums to book value.

During the fourth quarter, ARI issued $230 million of new convertible notes with a 5.375% coupon and $20.53 price per share initial conversion price or 10% premium to the common stock price on the date the transaction was priced. We also diversified and expanded our repo providers and now have 5 counterparties who provide ARI with over $3 billion of capacity.

Finally, we ended the quarter with a 1.1x debt-to-equity ratio, which continues to be the lowest amongst our peer group.

As we look to the year ahead, we remain confident in ARI's business model and market position. Our focus remains on finding investments, which generate attractive risk-adjusted returns within ARI's core business. In considering new transactions, we rely heavily on the experience and depth of Apollo's real estate credit and equity teams, the knowledge gained from transactions both completed and avoided, and the investment discipline, rigor and process that permeates the entire Apollo organization.

Importantly, ARI continues to benefit from the information and analysis that are shared broadly throughout the entire Apollo organization, which we diligently incorporate into our underwriting and structuring.

2019 is off to a strong start. Since January, ARI has committed to $432 million of new commercial real estate loans and our pipeline remains healthy. We anticipate over $400 million of future fundings in 2019, which we believe will help counterbalance a portion of the loan repayments expected throughout the year. We will remain steadfast to our credit-first methodology, while building ARI's pipeline and will be prudent in our capital management in funding new business. We believe the combination of our platform, pipeline and financial flexibility will enable ARI to continue to generate attractive risk-adjusted returns on its invested capital and provide an attractive dividend to our investors in 2019.

And with that, I will turn the call over to Jai to review our financial results.

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Jai Agarwal, Apollo Commercial Real Estate Finance, Inc. - CFO, Treasurer & Secretary [3]

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Thank you, Stuart, and good morning, everyone. For the fourth quarter of 2018, our operating earnings were $61.9 million or $0.46 per share.

GAAP net income was $46.2 million or $0.34 per share. For the full year of 2018, our operating earnings were $226 million or $1.80 per share and GAAP net income was $192.6 million or $1.48 per share.

During the fourth quarter, we committed $800 million to new transactions, of which $450 million was funded. In addition, we funded $134 million for previously closed loans. Repayments totaled $466 million during the quarter, with $319 million from first mortgages and $147 million from subordinate loans.

Importantly, the loans originated during full year 2018 had a weighted average appraised LTV of 58%. At year-end, our portfolio had an amortized cost of $4.9 billion, which is a year-over-year increase of over 30%.

The portfolio was comprised of 69 loans with a weighted average all-in yield of 9.3% and the remaining term of just under 3 years. 91% of the loans had a floating interest rate.

Moving on. As part of our quarterly asset review process, we recorded a $15 million loan loss provision against $171 million loan, known as Liberty Center. The property continues to be low to mid-80% occupied and is covering our debt service. While our new property manager is making progress with leasing and operations, there's still significant work to be done to stabilize the property.

With respect to liquidity, as of December 31, we had over $575 million of available capital from a combination of cash and availability on our credit lines.

Lastly, our book value per common share was $16.20 at December 31 as compared to $16.27 at the end of the prior quarter. The decline was primarily due to the loan loss reserve and was partially offset by the issuance of convertible notes in October.

And with that, we'd like to open the line for questions. Operator, please go ahead.

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Questions and Answers

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Operator [1]

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(Operator Instructions) And our first question comes from Steve Delaney from JMP Securities.

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Steven Cole Delaney, JMP Securities LLC, Research Division - MD, Director of Specialty Finance Research and Senior Research Analyst [2]

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Stuart, the portfolio had nice growth last year, just under $5 billion, over 30% growth. And I'm just curious if you look at the current market opportunity, if you have a range of expectations that you and others there have set for the portfolio growth in 2019, assuming a reasonably stable market conditions?

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Stuart A. Rothstein, Apollo Commercial Real Estate Finance, Inc. - President, CEO & Director [3]

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Yes, I would say, at a high level, Steve. Look, we still expect there to be a significant amount of, just broadly speaking, transaction activity. There is still a significant amount of capital held with value add funds, opportunity funds, other structures that tend to be our primary borrowers. And we expect that capital to get put to work, which will lead to at least opportunities for us to look at. I think the advantageous position we find ourselves in is, I think, the size of what we did last year and where we've taken the portfolio to, I think, really sets us up quite well from an earnings perspective for this year and I think it allows us to be more selective as we think about what to do with our capital on a go-forward basis without having any significant earnings pressure vis-à-vis dry powder on the balance sheet. So I think generally speaking, from a market perspective, I would say, there are things going on. I would say, people certainly started the year somewhat cautious, just trying to figure out where things would settle out, given the market volatility we saw at the end of the year. And it's important to box that market volatility in terms of capital markets volatility, not what we were actually seeing at underlying real estate. The pipeline is picking up, would certainly expect we will be active. Do I think we get back to $3 billion? We've run scenarios, where we could do that or we could come short of that. But it all comes back to the fact that I think we've got sort of a nice head start on this year just given how much we did last year as well as what closed in January of this year.

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Steven Cole Delaney, JMP Securities LLC, Research Division - MD, Director of Specialty Finance Research and Senior Research Analyst [4]

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That's good color. Obviously, it's going to -- whatever opportunities you present are going to really drive it for you, but I think realistically, something inside of the 30% growth would probably make sense at year-end. And then just one follow-up. You did couple of participations in large loans and you mentioned that in your prepared remarks. Can you comment on whether the lead lenders on those 2 loans, if they're large visible banks for one, who are you working with at least by description? And then also, in these cases, are you pari passu or are any of these sort of a senior-junior split?

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Stuart A. Rothstein, Apollo Commercial Real Estate Finance, Inc. - President, CEO & Director [5]

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No. In the situations you're referring to, they're pari passuing for us, to answer your questions in reverse, and then we have both participated with large banks as well as just other similarly situated lenders in the market, but all reasonably sizable organizations that you'd be familiar with by reputation.

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Operator [6]

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And our next question comes from Stephen Laws from Raymond James.

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Stephen Albert Laws, Raymond James & Associates, Inc., Research Division - Research Analyst [7]

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Following up on Steve's questions about the volumes. Can you talk about the mix, kind of, looking at year-over-year from fourth quarter? I guess, subordinate investments were down from 28% of assets to 21%, from an equity standpoint 44% to 35%. Looks like Q4 was all first mortgages. Is that a function of competition? Is that a function of the portfolio or where we are in the cycle? Can you maybe talk a little bit about how we're seeing a shift in your portfolio allocation between first and mez loans?

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Stuart A. Rothstein, Apollo Commercial Real Estate Finance, Inc. - President, CEO & Director [8]

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Yes, I think it's a factor of a few things. I think, first of all, given our larger size than, call it, prior years, we certainly are in a position to speak for the home loans as opposed to having to find or create mez positions, if you go back, call it, 3, 4, 5 years ago, so I think it certainly affords the opportunity to control a situation and speak for the whole capital stack. I also think it's fair to say, there are just fewer, sizable mez positions available in the market these days, largely probably driven by the fact that most senior lenders are willing to push out a little bit in terms of LTV or proceeds in order to control the situation. So fundamentally, at a high level, we are still very open to doing either first mortgages or mezzanine loans, and we look at each as a unique opportunity and underwrite it as a unique opportunity. But if you look at our pipeline and look at where the book has gone over time and what we anticipate being available in the market, I think it's fair to say it will still be more weighted towards first mortgages than mezzanine loans just given what's available in the market these days.

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Stephen Albert Laws, Raymond James & Associates, Inc., Research Division - Research Analyst [9]

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Great, that's helpful from a modeling standpoint. And a follow-up on your comments there as you talked about some, I guess, first mortgage lenders willing to stretch a little bit on LTV. Can you maybe talk about competition? Have you seen competition to price kind of subside and stabilize? Are you seeing increased competition from people you haven't seen in the past? Or maybe update us on the landscape of what you're seeing in the market here now that things have calmed down from the dislocation in December?

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Stuart A. Rothstein, Apollo Commercial Real Estate Finance, Inc. - President, CEO & Director [10]

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Yes. At a high level, I don't think we've seen any significant or major new entrances -- entrants recently. You certainly -- from our perspective, I think you saw the most, call it, increase in competition or increase in interest level probably the first half of last year, which probably drove more significant pricing or spread compression during the early part of last year and which somewhat moderated as we moved through the middle to latter part of last year. I would say things are still competitive. I would say spread compression is moderated, maybe things have ground in a little bit, but we're also back to a 10-year that's now in the 2.65% to 2.70% range. And it feels like the rise in LIBOR has certainly abated or ebbed at this point. So I would describe the market, generally speaking, from a competitive perspective, as very similar to where it was the latter part of last year. I think what you're seeing in the market right now is, I would say, the market is still sort of finding its way, call it, all over whatever we are 5, 6 weeks into the year. The economy, at least domestically, is still putting up good numbers, underlying real estate fundamentals, but for some pockets here and there are still performing well. And I think everybody is just trying to feel out the market a little bit and see if what we experienced on the capital market side at the end of last year was just a blip or it's got any real impact on the market. But from a competitive standpoint, no really new entrants, just sort of the same place we were, call it, 3, 6, 9 months ago.

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Operator [11]

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Our next question comes from Rick Shane from JPMorgan.

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Richard Barry Shane, JP Morgan Chase & Co, Research Division - Senior Equity Analyst [12]

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On the Cincinnati property, it looks like in the third quarter the provision was related to the restructuring in the compression of the yield from 5, 5 spread to the 3 spread. Is what you're describing today now in greater expectation of loss of principal?

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Stuart A. Rothstein, Apollo Commercial Real Estate Finance, Inc. - President, CEO & Director [13]

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Yes, so to be fair, we didn't take a provision in the third quarter. We go through the same analysis every quarter, which is at a high level the loan on our books and what can we realistically expect moment in time, recovery value within the broader guidance provided from an accounting perspective. I think the reserve we've now taken in the fourth quarter, again, sort of, speaks to where the asset is from a leasing perspective, NOI perspective, looking at where as best you can similarly situated assets are clearing the market. And given sort of where retail is perceived in the country overall these days, it's always tough to find good comps. But, look, we think there is still a lot of work to be done on this asset. It is covering debt service, it is a real center. But low 80s occupancy is not where we wanted to be long term. We think it's -- we think there are strategies to certainly increase the occupancy. We think there are other strategies vis-à-vis the size of the parcel and what you may or may not be able to do without parcels or other strategies to continue to add value to the site. But in terms of the, sort of, analysis we go through on a quarterly basis from a pure, sort of, books and records perspective is the appropriate time to take a reserve.

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Richard Barry Shane, JP Morgan Chase & Co, Research Division - Senior Equity Analyst [14]

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And Stuart, just to be clear, because I just spoke on it in the third quarter. The TDR provision was actually in the second quarter, but that was on this property as well, correct?

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Stuart A. Rothstein, Apollo Commercial Real Estate Finance, Inc. - President, CEO & Director [15]

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That was not on this property.

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Jai Agarwal, Apollo Commercial Real Estate Finance, Inc. - CFO, Treasurer & Secretary [16]

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That was a TDR, but that was not as reserve. The reserve was on Quarry Springs in the second quarter is what you're referring to.

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Operator [17]

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Our next question comes from Jade Rahmani from KBW.

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Jade Joseph Rahmani, Keefe, Bruyette, & Woods, Inc., Research Division - Director [18]

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Just coming along the Liberty, what's the justification for the 6.75% cap rate. Just looking at market data from RCA, some other sources, some folks I've spoken to, I would have thought that something in mid-7% to as high as potentially 9% or 10% would be more conservative, 6.75% seems kind of optimistic. And in addition, what is the downside risk to the current in-place NOI?

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Stuart A. Rothstein, Apollo Commercial Real Estate Finance, Inc. - President, CEO & Director [19]

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Yes. So, look, at a high level, Jade, we, like you, seek market data. We look for: a, comps that are as nearby as possible and similar in terms of the asset we're talking about. We also look at broader comps either public or private to the extent it's hard to find a robust number of comps in the specific submarket we're talking about. And then we also look at a little bit deeper in terms of comps for stabilized properties versus comps for properties that still have some ramp and ability to reflect a higher NOI over time as well as other ways to create value at the property through additional strategies to create more revenue over time, whether it be out parcel or other strategies. So we certainly are comfortable with the comps we got. I think the cap rate is reflective of where the NOI at this asset can go with some more robust leasing. And sort of that's where we came out from a valuation perspective. I think in terms of the in-place NOI, I think who is there now, call it, the tenants that make up, call it, the low 80s occupancy. We generally feel pretty comfortable with that tenancy. There will always be some ins and outs, but nothing of a material nature right now that we expect to have a major hit on the revenue side. And if anything with new management in place, we're actually reasonably optimistic that we can create some material savings on the expense side, which will clearly fall to the bottom line from an NOI perspective.

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Jade Joseph Rahmani, Keefe, Bruyette, & Woods, Inc., Research Division - Director [20]

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And is the natural rate of occupancy for this property, once stabilized, much higher than the low 80s? Or is the issue really that the rents -- the achievable market rents are pretty low right now?

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Stuart A. Rothstein, Apollo Commercial Real Estate Finance, Inc. - President, CEO & Director [21]

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I think it's more on the occupancy side. I think this can easily be in the, call it, high 80s, low 90s from an occupancy perspective. I think the challenge, given the changing nature of real estate, is actually finding tenants that will succeed long term and not just trading tenants in and out. We could actually, if we wanted to, today, increase the occupancy rate, but I'm not sure you'd be increasing the occupancy rate with tenants that are long-term viable on rotation. And the challenge for us right now, in partnership with the new management team, is actually creating a merchandising plan that makes this center work on a long time -- on a long-term viable basis. But I think, when stabilized, this asset is more of a high 80s, low 90s percent occupied product.

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Jade Joseph Rahmani, Keefe, Bruyette, & Woods, Inc., Research Division - Director [22]

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Okay. And just clarification on the language about the VIE that was in the 10-K. I wasn't sure about that. Does ARI have an equity interest in the entity that owns the property?

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Jai Agarwal, Apollo Commercial Real Estate Finance, Inc. - CFO, Treasurer & Secretary [23]

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We do. We have an equity interest in the property but we don't -- but we did not consolidate it, that's right. And it's a nominal equity interest for $1.

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Jade Joseph Rahmani, Keefe, Bruyette, & Woods, Inc., Research Division - Director [24]

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So I mean, effectively, should this be classified as an REO property if you have an equity interest? What's the rationale for that?

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Jai Agarwal, Apollo Commercial Real Estate Finance, Inc. - CFO, Treasurer & Secretary [25]

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No, we have a third-party partner as well. And if you go through the guidance, the way the control mechanism is set up, we are not deemed to be -- not to use technical terms, what's called the primary beneficiaries here. So therefore, this was not consolidated on our books.

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Jade Joseph Rahmani, Keefe, Bruyette, & Woods, Inc., Research Division - Director [26]

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Okay, it's a little confusing. And just to put a final point on it. Are you accruing interest on this loan? Why not put the loan on nonaccrual status and treat those payments as repayment of principal to reduce the principal at risk over time?

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Jai Agarwal, Apollo Commercial Real Estate Finance, Inc. - CFO, Treasurer & Secretary [27]

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It is covering debt service today. So we feel like it's appropriate to accrue the interest, especially because we have also marked down the property now -- or marked down the loan, I should say.

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Jade Joseph Rahmani, Keefe, Bruyette, & Woods, Inc., Research Division - Director [28]

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And under the accounting rules, do you have discretion to classify it as -- and put it on nonaccrual and then treat those same debt service payments as simply repayment of principal?

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Jai Agarwal, Apollo Commercial Real Estate Finance, Inc. - CFO, Treasurer & Secretary [29]

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We do have some leeway to do that, correct. But we (inaudible) did not. Yes.

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Jade Joseph Rahmani, Keefe, Bruyette, & Woods, Inc., Research Division - Director [30]

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More broadly, regarding overall asset quality, are there any other potential problem areas that you believe could result in impairment. There are, of course, those 2 other risk 5 rated loans. But beyond those, any issues on the horizon or on watch list?

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Stuart A. Rothstein, Apollo Commercial Real Estate Finance, Inc. - President, CEO & Director [31]

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Nothing that we perceive in the portfolio right now, which is reflected in the ratings that we put on each asset.

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Jade Joseph Rahmani, Keefe, Bruyette, & Woods, Inc., Research Division - Director [32]

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And lastly, could you provide any color on the recent SAVA refi, which was through a securitization? At the property level, what's the status of current performance? I think you've said that the debt yields on ARI's exposure were in the teens. And at the ARI level, what's your decision to participate in the refi? Would your loan have been repaid otherwise?

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Stuart A. Rothstein, Apollo Commercial Real Estate Finance, Inc. - President, CEO & Director [33]

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Again, we looked at the new loan as an opportunity given the restructuring of the assets. They broke up the assets into different pools, and we believe we improved our collateral pool in terms of where -- what our loan is against. And from a risk perspective, we actually increased the debt yield against our position, which is, call it, solidly in the teens vis-à-vis our risk positions. So as we looked at it in terms of what we are getting paid, what the debt yield was and what the changes to the collateral pool were, it made sense for us to continue our exposure to the asset class, which we were comfortable with at the time we made the original investment.

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Jade Joseph Rahmani, Keefe, Bruyette, & Woods, Inc., Research Division - Director [34]

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And would you have been repaid if you decided not to participate?

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Stuart A. Rothstein, Apollo Commercial Real Estate Finance, Inc. - President, CEO & Director [35]

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Absolutely.

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Operator [36]

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Our next question comes from Ben Zucker from BTIG.

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Benjamin Ira Zucker, BTIG, LLC, Research Division - Analyst [37]

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Real quickly on leverage. Do you have the ability, or maybe desire is a better word, to take that up a little bit? And I ask because you really didn't have too much cash on hand at the end of the year. And it looks like you've been a clear net deployer of capital subsequent to year-end, especially with those subsequent loans being fully funded. So just trying to get a feel of your capacity right now.

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Stuart A. Rothstein, Apollo Commercial Real Estate Finance, Inc. - President, CEO & Director [38]

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Yes, look, we clearly have on the balance sheet right now, Ben, first mortgage loans that are not -- we're not borrowing against that we have the ability to finance on our repo facility. So naturally, as the book shifts towards more first mortgages and we use leverage on those first mortgages, leverage will naturally rise. We've always talked about running this company at somewhere between 1.5 to 2 turns of leverage, I'm not sure we actually get to that leverage level. But there is clearly leverage capacity within the balance sheet and we're comfortable using it as a source of capital for new opportunities as they arise.

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Benjamin Ira Zucker, BTIG, LLC, Research Division - Analyst [39]

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That's definitely helpful. And looking at your capital stack, Stuart, and I think you might have started touching on this in your prepared remarks when you were looking at ways to optimize the balance sheet and reduce your all-in costs. About half of your preferred stock is currently redeemable and we saw you redeem some of these preferreds back in the second half of 2017, I think. So I'm just wondering how you view your current capitalization set up, specifically with this preferred? And if you think there might be an opportunity to redeem some of these Series Cs here in 2019?

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Stuart A. Rothstein, Apollo Commercial Real Estate Finance, Inc. - President, CEO & Director [40]

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It's certainly a topic that we discuss frequently. I think it's a possibility. I think the advantages of it are that it's forever permanent equity capital, which is something we don't want to give up lightly. We also receive equity treatment with respect to it from those who look at our balance sheet from a, call it, debt-to-equity perspective and care about more permanent equity under the company. I think there's theoretically an option to call it at some point in time. And it's something that's discussed regularly, but no specific plans in place today.

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Benjamin Ira Zucker, BTIG, LLC, Research Division - Analyst [41]

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Okay, that's helpful. And then just lastly and this is kind of maybe weird-sounding question, big picture. But it kind of feels like when the markets are volatile, like they were in December, could that actually be framed as like a net positive for you guys as real estate lenders? And it just seems like outside of the temporary volatility and maybe borrowers putting plans on pause for the short term, if the end result is a much lower tenure that kind of puts real estate back in the safe haven category and takes pressure off of cap rates, aren't you guys net beneficiaries of that volatility?

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Stuart A. Rothstein, Apollo Commercial Real Estate Finance, Inc. - President, CEO & Director [42]

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I mean, I think at a high level, yes. Because I think there will continue to be real estate activity and there will continue to be opportunities for us to look at transactions. That being said, I don't want to oversell what the benefits of 3 weeks of market volatility is on an industry that is absolutely 100% a lagging indicator. And what you're seeing on Bloomberg screens or other markets, not to be flipping about it, it takes some time for that to actually permeate the real estate market, where by and large things are privately negotiated transactions, there's long lead times, people work on structures and transactions for a very lengthy time. And when you've had such a quick rebound like we've had in the early part of this year, I'm not sure it's dramatically changed behaviors or patterns.

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Operator [43]

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(Operator Instructions) And our next question comes from Jim Young from West Family Investments.

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James Young, West Family Investments, Inc. - Investment Analyst [44]

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I was just kind of curious, when you think about where we are kind of in the credit cycle and other investment considerations, can you help us understand how you're like repositioning the portfolio from, like, a geographic perspective, property types and really where in the capital stack you would want to be going forward?

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Stuart A. Rothstein, Apollo Commercial Real Estate Finance, Inc. - President, CEO & Director [45]

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Yes, so look, I think where we are is, if you start backwards from real estate fundamentals, I would say, generally speaking, real estate fundamentals are still -- absent some pockets, still generally positive though, I would say, the rate of improvement is moderating. But underlying performance either measured by occupancy rates, rent levels, ADR or rent par performance, if you're looking at a hotel, has generally been pretty strong over the last, call it, 12 to 18 months. And still probably expected to be positive if the economy hangs in overall, but probably slowing. I think as we think about ARI, a couple things worth noting and you always hear either myself or Scott talked about, we truly do look at the portfolio from a bottoms up deal-by-deal basis and try not to draw any sort of bright line, either must dos or must don'ts as we think about constructing the portfolio. That being said, I'll go back to the -- where I started this conference call in the first question, which was the level of activity we completed last year really positions our -- really positions the company extremely well as we think about earnings and generating earnings to cover the dividend for 2019. And it allows us to be somewhat more cautious or thoughtful with respect to new transactions, even if it means we keep excess dry powder on the balance sheet for a time being and under-earn, call it, our max earnings capacity for lack of a better phrase. As we think about exposures, either by property type or geographies, we continue to be for the most part major city focused, gateway city focused, we tend to like those markets just given the quality of sponsorship on the equity side as well as the ultimate liquidity of those markets, if you truly believe things will slow or ebb at some point in time. In terms of property types, I think it's fair to say that if you look at our current exposure to New York condos these days, I feel very comfortable with the investments we've made to date. But I would say, we're not looking to aggressively add new exposure in that area. Right now, I would say, we continue to see a lot on the hospitality side, a lot on the office side and a lot on what we have traditionally described as the predevelopment side of things. Again, those transactions turn to be somewhat episodic bottoms up. It really comes down to do you like the transaction or not. So I would say, we're still open to looking at everything. We're not changing in terms of what we do or how we think about the world that I think to the extent you're picking up somewhat of a more thoughtful or sort of cautionary tone in my comments. I think that's reflective of how we're thinking about the world right now and while the volatility that we saw at the end of last year in the capital markets hasn't really spilled over to the real estate market in a material way. I think we can ignore what happened. And I think for us that means our first job at all times is to protect principal. And then you think about what return is achievable after you've protected principal. And I would say most of the conversations we have with our team as we look at new transactions these days is first and foremost how do we feel about protecting principal.

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Operator [46]

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Our next question comes from Ken Bruce from Bank of America Lynch.

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Kenneth Matthew Bruce, BofA Merrill Lynch, Research Division - MD [47]

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Gosh, that was a good segue. I guess, for really the last couple of years on both the GAAP and an operating earnings basis, you've been under-earning the dividend. I'm interested in what the taxable earnings were in the fourth quarter as well as full year 2018, if you could provide us that.

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Jai Agarwal, Apollo Commercial Real Estate Finance, Inc. - CFO, Treasurer & Secretary [48]

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Yes, sure. So if you look at that 1099 filing, we had a 10% return of capital this year from a tax perspective. So our taxable earnings were lower than our dividend for the full year of '18.

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Kenneth Matthew Bruce, BofA Merrill Lynch, Research Division - MD [49]

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Okay. And is there anything that just kind of given Stuart's earlier comment in terms of protecting principal first and earnings are kind of second, which is, I wouldn't say, do not pursue that strategy, that's very much the best one, but could you provide maybe some thoughts around what the security of the taxable income is in the dividend going forward?

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Stuart A. Rothstein, Apollo Commercial Real Estate Finance, Inc. - President, CEO & Director [50]

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Yes. I think I've said it very early on in the call. Look, I think, given the success we had last year in terms of just gross originations volume, we feel very comfortable with the earnings we will generate with respect to the current dividend run rate without having to use all of the available capital that we have to invest. Or said differently, I think we can continue to churn out earnings consistent at a high level with where that dividend has been and still have dry powder on the balance sheet, which is where we want to be. I think the other thing I'd say sort of in reference to where your question started, Ken, is, look, we -- I think some of the noise around whether we earned or didn't earn the dividend by a penny in any specific quarter from an operating earnings perspective, we very much discount the impact of capital markets activity in terms of whether we happen to raise equity and that had an impact or something -- we converted notes last year, which had an impact on the share count. As long as we see through on an investable basis being able to generate the dividend with the capital we have available and the returns that we think are achievable on a moment in time on that capital, we don't plan on bouncing the dividend all over the place on a quarterly or annual basis. And we're feeling very good about 2019 just given where the portfolio sits today.

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Kenneth Matthew Bruce, BofA Merrill Lynch, Research Division - MD [51]

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Great. Well, that's our concern as well. I mean, I understand that these numbers can -- the earnings can move around on any given quarter. But the more important kind of vector that we're trying to really hone in on is if there's a bias on the dividend one way or the other just being able to understand where that's going to show up and then when. So that was really kind of the basis of the question.

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Operator [52]

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And we have a follow-up question from Jade Rahmani from KBW.

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Jade Joseph Rahmani, Keefe, Bruyette, & Woods, Inc., Research Division - Director [53]

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Just regarding the New York City condo market, I want to see if you could give an update how you're seeing things. And just the large deal that you participated in. If you could provide some color there because it's a extremely large building, I think, over 500 units, for example, a lot of retail in the financial districts. Any color there?

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Stuart A. Rothstein, Apollo Commercial Real Estate Finance, Inc. - President, CEO & Director [54]

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Yes. Look, at a high level on the New York City condo market, it's fair to say that the face of activity and the volume of transactions has certainly slowed over the last 12 to 18 months. And we're cognizant of that in all of our various exposures through the city. Ultimately, as we think about it really from a lender's perspective, there are 2 risks that we fundamentally take when we do a condo transaction in New York. On those that have a construction component, obviously, the first risk you're taking is, will the product be created to spec and is it capitalized to be created to spec? And I would say in any of our New York construction-related condo transactions, we are very comfortable from that perspective. Then once you actually have salable product, the risk you're taking from our perspective is really the basis of the loan relative to what you think is an achievable clearing price for the units, irrespective of whether ultimately the equity sponsor makes their desired return or not. I will tell you that we feel very comfortable across the board on the basis we have in the various projects, even though pricing -- even though pacing has slowed and pricing has slowed somewhat relative to where it was 12 to 18 months ago. Generally speaking, when we're going into these condo transactions, we're going in at, call it, roughly 50% to 55% loan basis to our expected view of net sellout value, which is typically somewhat inside of where the equity sponsor thinks they will sell units. And units are still selling and even when they're selling at low price points, it still provides a significant cushion relative to our basis on the transactions we're involved in that are still selling right now. So generally, again, slower pacing, somewhat lower pricing, but relative to our basis still feel very comfortable with respect to the exposures that we have. In terms of the one large participation we did, which I'm assuming you could figure out the asset, just given the mix of condo and retail, there's great traction on the retail side in terms of the leasing that's been done to date. There have actually been 50-plus condos sold to date already in a very sort of quiet sort of prelaunch marketing process. And from a, call it, loan-to-sellout value, price per pound, square foot value, given what we're getting paid for the risk we're taking, we feel very comfortable with the transaction.

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Jade Joseph Rahmani, Keefe, Bruyette, & Woods, Inc., Research Division - Director [55]

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And what's the time absorptions? What's the expected duration of the product? How many condos will they ultimately be able to ramp up to selling every month, since there is over 500?

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Stuart A. Rothstein, Apollo Commercial Real Estate Finance, Inc. - President, CEO & Director [56]

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I mean, at this point, it still needs to be created. So you're, call it, 1 to 2 years out in terms of actually creating the product. They haven't really formally launched the sales effort yet. This will be a multi-year project in terms of both construction and then sales process, but they've already gotten a decent head start in terms of the units they sold today.

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Jade Joseph Rahmani, Keefe, Bruyette, & Woods, Inc., Research Division - Director [57]

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And just hypothetically though, if it was completed today and they were selling condos, how many do you think they can sell a month?

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Stuart A. Rothstein, Apollo Commercial Real Estate Finance, Inc. - President, CEO & Director [58]

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Well, again, how many can they sell a month? The way I think about and the way we come back to it this way, we look at it from our basis, Jade, and from our basis, they need to sell far fewer than the total number of condos to actually get us paid off, given the success they've had on the retail already. We've been in projects previously, where people sell 10 to 15 a month. We've been in projects where people sell 1 to 3 a month. Again, we look at it from our basis perspective. And given sort of what our basis is and what they've achieved to date, both on the retail side and the 50-plus condos they've sold, we're very comfortable. And I think it's inappropriate for me to speak to what their sales expectations are, given that they haven't sort of publicly disclosed it, they want to do it on a sales basis per month.

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Jade Joseph Rahmani, Keefe, Bruyette, & Woods, Inc., Research Division - Director [59]

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And just cash flow wise, so condo sales and whatever proceeds they're able to generate through retail leasing activity, those cash flows are used to pay down principal before there's any payments to equity?

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Stuart A. Rothstein, Apollo Commercial Real Estate Finance, Inc. - President, CEO & Director [60]

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Cash flow to retail is also a separate entity, so that could be sold at some point in time to pay down as well.

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Operator [61]

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And I'm showing no further questions. I would now like to turn the call back over to Stuart Rothstein for any further remarks.

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Stuart A. Rothstein, Apollo Commercial Real Estate Finance, Inc. - President, CEO & Director [62]

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Thanks, operator, and thanks for those of you who participated.

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Operator [63]

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Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for participating in today's conference. This concludes today's program. You may all disconnect. And everyone, have a great day.