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Edited Transcript of DLR earnings conference call or presentation 13-Feb-20 10:30pm GMT

Q4 2019 Digital Realty Trust Inc Earnings Call

Menlo Park, Feb 19, 2020 (Thomson StreetEvents) -- Edited Transcript of Digital Realty Trust Inc earnings conference call or presentation Thursday, February 13, 2020 at 10:30:00pm GMT

TEXT version of Transcript

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Corporate Participants

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* Arthur William Stein

Digital Realty Trust, Inc. - CEO & Director

* Christopher Sharp

Digital Realty Trust, Inc. - CTO

* Corey Dyer

Digital Realty Trust, Inc. - EVP of Global Sales & Marketing

* Gregory S. Wright

Digital Realty Trust, Inc. - CIO

* John J. Stewart

Digital Realty Trust, Inc. - SVP of IR

* Matt Mercier

Digital Realty Trust, Inc. - SVP of Finance

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Conference Call Participants

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* Aryeh Klein

BMO Capital Markets Equity Research - Analyst

* Erik Peter Rasmussen

Stifel, Nicolaus & Company, Incorporated, Research Division - Analyst

* Jonathan Atkin

RBC Capital Markets, Research Division - MD and Senior Analyst

* Jordan Sadler

KeyBanc Capital Markets Inc., Research Division - MD and Equity Research Analyst

* Michael Rollins

Citigroup Inc, Research Division - MD and U.S. Telecoms Analyst

* Michael J. Funk

BofA Merrill Lynch, Research Division - VP

* Robert Palmisano; Raymond James Financial Services;Equity Research Associate

* Simon William Flannery

Morgan Stanley, Research Division - MD

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Presentation

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Operator [1]

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Good afternoon and welcome to the Digital Realty Fourth Quarter 2019 Earnings Call. Please note this event is being recorded. (Operator Instructions) I would now like to turn the call over to John Stewart, Digital Realty's Senior Vice President of Investor Relations. Please go ahead.

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John J. Stewart, Digital Realty Trust, Inc. - SVP of IR [2]

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Thank you, Sean. The speakers on today's call are CEO, Bill Stein; and SVP, Finance, Matt Mercier. CIO, Greg Wright; CTO, Chris Sharp; and Corey Dyer, EVP, Sales and Marketing, are also on the call and will be available for Q&A.

Management may make forward-looking statements, including guidance and the underlying assumptions. Forward-looking statements are based on expectations that involve risks and uncertainties that could cause actual results to differ materially. For a further discussion of risks related to our business, see our 10-K and subsequent filings with the SEC.

This call will contain non-GAAP financial information. Reconciliations to net income are included in the supplemental package furnished to the SEC and available on our website. Investors are encouraged to read the proxy statement and prospectus with respect to the proposed transaction between Digital Realty and Interxion and other relevant documents filed with the SEC because they contain important information. You may obtain a free copy of these documents from the SEC's website at sec.gov or from the websites or Investor Relations departments of either Digital Realty or Interxion.

Before I turn the call over to our CEO, Bill Stein, I would like to hit the tops of the waves on our fourth quarter results. We extended our global footprint, reaching agreements to combine with Interxion and to enter India. We enhanced our portfolio quality, recycling capital from fully stabilized assets into network-dense interconnection hubs. We launched PlatformDIGITAL, a unique global data center platform designed to enable customers to scale digital business. We advanced our sustainability initiatives with incremental renewable energy agreements and several industry awards. Last, but not least, we further strengthened the balance sheet, locking in long-term debt and preferred equity capital at record low coupons.

With that, I would like to turn the call over to Bill.

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Arthur William Stein, Digital Realty Trust, Inc. - CEO & Director [3]

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Good afternoon, and thank you all for joining us. Our formula for long-term value creation is a global, connected sustainable framework. We advanced each of these 3 pillars in 2019, culminating with the addition of a new member to the digital family, and we would like to congratulate our friend and partner, Andy Power, along with his wife Sarah, on the arrival of their baby girl Power, Madison Elizabeth, earlier this week.

We continue to expand our global footprint. The highlight was, of course, our entry into a definitive agreement to combine with Interxion in a highly strategic and complementary transaction that will create a leading global provider of cloud and carrier-neutral data center solutions. We also executed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Adani Group to pursue a joint venture in India, and we are actively exploring opportunities to plant our first flag in this vast, untapped market with tremendous growth potential.

Yesterday, we announced an agreement with Clise Properties to acquire a 49% ownership interest in the Westin Building Exchange in Seattle, shown here on Page 3. The Westin Building is one of the most densely interconnected facilities in North America. It is home to leading global cloud, content and interconnection providers, with over 150 carriers and more than 10,000 cross-connects.

As you are probably aware, we've closed $1.4 billion of asset sales over the past 3 months. Pro forma for the asset sales, the Westin Building and in combination with Interxion, network-dense performance-sensitive assets will make up nearly half our portfolio, up from a little over 1/4 as of September 30. Taken together, you can see the strategic direction uniting each of these individual pieces. We are deliberately recycling capital from stabilized assets and reinvesting in higher growth opportunities, sacrificing near-term earnings growth for long-term value creation.

We've also made significant strides extending our sustainability leadership, as outlined here on Page 4. In October, we announced renewable energy agreements in Northern Virginia and Oregon. In November, we were honored to receive NAREIT's Leader in the Light Award for data center sustainability for the third consecutive year. In January, we earned EPA ENERGY STAR certification for exemplary energy performance in 29 data centers, the second year in a row we earned the most ENERGY STAR certifications in the sector.

Also in January, we issued EUR 1.4 billion of green euro bonds. This was our third green bond issuance, and we are now the largest U.S. REIT green bond issuer. Our green bond framework is aligned with ICMA green bond principles, with a second-party opinion provided by Sustainalytics. Also in January, and away from Digital, some of our largest customers and investors unveiled sweeping sustainability commitments, with a particular emphasis on improved disclosure for shareholders. We have included SASB-aligned disclosures in our 10-K for the past 2 years, and our ESG report includes extensive additional information about our approach to managing the impact of climate change. Our ESG report also addresses relevant themes of the TCFD framework. We are committed to managing our environmental impact and optimizing our use of energy and natural resources because we believe it's the right thing to do and because it matters to our customers, our investors and our employees.

We are committed to delivering sustainable growth for all stakeholders and serving a social purpose. In January, we announced the appointment of 2 new directors, expanding the size of our Board from 9 to 11. The governance principle behind our Board refreshment philosophy is balancing fresh thinking and new perspectives with experience and continuity. The average tenure on our Board is less than 6 years, whereas our Chairman and former Chairman have both served on the Board since our IPO.

We are particularly excited about the new perspectives and expertise our 2 new directors will bring to the Board, specifically, Alexis Black Bjorlin brings unique connectivity and customer perspective from her experience at leading global providers across the cloud and communications value chain, while Lieutenant General Dash Jamieson brings invaluable cybersecurity expertise from her tenure as former director of U.S. Air Force intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and cyber effects operations. We are delighted to welcome them both to our Board, and we look forward to benefiting from their leadership and expertise for years to come.

Let's turn to Page 5 for an update on Interxion. In early January, we raised EUR 1.7 billion of euro bonds with a weighted average maturity of approximately 7 years and a weighted average coupon of approximately 1%. We intend to use a portion of the proceeds from these bonds to refinance Interxion's outstanding debt. The bond offering is not contingent upon completion of the combination with Interxion, but if the combination is not consummated before the end of next January, then we will be required to redeem EUR 1.4 billion of the euro bonds at 101% of par.

In late January, the SEC declared our S-4 registration statement effective, and we launched the exchange offer for shares of Interxion. Shortly after our registration statement went effective, Interxion filed its scheduled 14D-9, which included the background on the transaction from their perspective, fairness opinions from their advisers and their Board's unanimous recommendation in support of the exchange offer. Once the schedule 14D-9 was filed, both companies began mailing proxy materials for our respective shareholder meetings, which are scheduled for February 27.

In terms of the regulatory process, we've received clearance from the antitrust authorities in Austria, Germany and the Netherlands, and we are now just waiting for decisions on our foreign investment filings in France and Germany, where we currently own and operate data centers. In terms of integration, planning activities are underway, but until the transaction closes, it remains business as usual, and we continue to operate as 2 independent companies. In terms of timing, we remain on track, and subject to regulatory clearance and other closing conditions, we expect to close sometime in the second quarter.

Let's turn to Page 6. During the fourth quarter, we launched PlatformDIGITAL, a continuation of our focus on the customer in an evolution of our Connected Campus strategy as we also unveiled our platform road map to underpin the next wave of digital transformation in response to market demand. Enterprise customers are demanding a global fit-for-purpose data center platform experience to rapidly deploy, connect and host distributed IT infrastructure to scale their digital business. To address this demand, we introduced 4 solution offers productizing specific combinations of space, power, cross-connect and management controls. These solutions enable enterprise deployments of network, security and data infrastructure at global points of business presence. The launch of PlatformDIGITAL has been well received by industry, including customers, partners and industry analysts.

At MarketplaceLIVE in November, Cisco, IBM and Vapor launched partner-validated versions of PlatformDIGITAL solutions and numerous industry analyst-published highlight reports. We are excited about the PlatformDIGITAL launch as it positions us to capture the significant, incremental addressable market by serving the global needs of the enterprise.

Let's turn to the favorable secular demand drivers underlying our business along with industry analyst recognition of the leadership role Digital Realty has to play here on Page 7. According to the IDC CEO survey, digital transformation is expected to enable over $18 trillion of economic value-add over the next 3 years. Gartner recently pegged enterprise global IT spending at almost $4 trillion, reflecting rapidly growing investment to build distributed IT and data center infrastructure.

During the fourth quarter, Digital Realty was named as a worldwide leader in the IDC MarketScape: Colocation & Interconnection Services Vendor Assessment report, noting that PlatformDIGITAL provides a global scale platform to enable digital transformation in a consistent, modular basis. We are honored by the strong confirmation of Digital Realty's unique positioning to capture the global data center demand opportunity.

We continue to see early indicators of digital transformation demand on our platform. We captured a record number of new logos last year, led by our enterprise vertical as these customers begin to deploy and connect components of their digital infrastructure globally.

Given the resiliency of the demand drivers underpinning our business and the relevance of our portfolio to meeting these needs, we believe we are well positioned to continue to deliver sustainable growth for customers, shareholders and employees, whatever the macro environment may hold in store.

With that, I would like to turn the call over to Matt Mercier to take you through our financial results.

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Matt Mercier, Digital Realty Trust, Inc. - SVP of Finance [4]

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Thank you, Bill. Let's begin with our leasing activity here on Page 9. We delivered another solid quarter of leasing activity, with particular strength in APAC and the Americas. We signed total bookings of $69 million, just shy of our all-time second best. Fourth quarter bookings included a $7 million contribution from interconnection. We signed new leases for space and power totaling $62 million, with a weighted average lease term of a little over 6 years, including an $8 million colocation contribution.

I would like to point out that we see the lines blurring between product types, and the distinction is becoming less meaningful. As a result, we expect to evolve our disclosure in the coming quarters to more closely align with our customers' buying behavior and the way we manage the business. We aim to consistently improve the transparency of our financial disclosures, and as always, we welcome additional input from analysts and investors in the process.

During the fourth quarter, we added 51 new logos. This was our third highest new logo quarter, and our 2 best came in 3Q '19 and 2Q '19. For the full year, we added 215 new logos, nearly 40% better than the prior year, underscoring the traction we're gaining within our enterprise segment.

In APAC, we saw strength in Sydney, Singapore and Osaka. In the Americas, we quietly leased another 18 megawatts in Ashburn during the fourth quarter. And similar to the previous quarter, our biggest deal in this market was just 6 megawatts, demonstrating broad-based strength of demand. As Andy predicted last quarter, the Ashburn pendulum has swung back a bit quicker than just about anyone expected a year ago and the tremendous scale and the connectivity of our Ashburn Connected Campus outperformed in a crowded, competitive backdrop. On the heels of additional activities since year-end, our Northern Virginia active development pipeline is now 100% pre-leased.

We have not yet begun to see upward pressure on pricing, given competitive supply elsewhere in the market, but rental rates have stabilized. We are beginning to field mutually exclusive requirements for the remaining capacity, and available blocks of contiguous inventory are becoming scarce. Needless to say, while the Ashburn market is not entirely out of the supply and demand woods just yet, we remain bullish on the long-term prospects for communications infrastructure in the Commonwealth as well as our position in the market given the diversity of our large and growing installed base of customers seeking additional footprint on the campus as well as the value of our strategic landholdings, which provide the longest run rate for their growth.

Several specific fourth quarter wins speak directly to our ability to address customer needs with our global platform and full product spectrum offering. PathAI is the world's leading provider of AI-powered technology for advancing pathology research, using machine learning and deep learning techniques to drive towards faster, more accurate diagnosis of diseases like cancer. The Boston-based start-up partners with some of the world's largest life science companies, such as Bristol-Myers Squibb, LabCorp and Gilead Sciences. As a company that was born in and until now operated exclusively in the cloud, this is PathAI's first deployment of physical infrastructure. Given the GPU-intensive nature of their IT environment and the rapid growth, PathAI was struggling to control their monthly cloud spend. Their deployment into Digital Realty move-in ready capacity will enable them to pull over 80% of their GPU workload out of the cloud to better manage and predict the costs associated with their high-performance computing environment.

Our PlatformDIGITAL solution addressed multiple needs for a global social media provider, including the need for network point-of-presence, with the ability to connect directly to our communities of interest locally and globally as well as a testing environment for their larger deployment in the same location. This customer was able to leverage our Connected Campus and Internet Gateway, which is really the power of PlatformDIGITAL. The ability to connect to the subsea cable that provides substantial bandwidth for traffic to markets across Asia Pacific was another key driver. They trusted the Digital Realty team, and we're confident we could move quickly, think creatively and most importantly, execute. We enjoyed notable success re-leasing previously occupied or move-in ready inventory with a U.S.-based designer, developer, manufacturer and global supplier of a broad range of semiconductor and infrastructure software products.

The Digital Realty team closed a multisite, multicountry deal with this customer, that included a combination of move-in ready locations, plus a large colocation deployment. Digital Realty was awarded the business due to our ability to quickly negotiate terms while remaining flexible in scope, speed to market and expansion options. This win was a prime example of our global multiproduct platform meeting our customers' digital transformation needs.

Last but not least, just to give you an example of the breadth of companies using PlatformDIGITAL to enable and help scale their business, we landed a deal this quarter with an advertising company that creates patented world-class ad tech that delivers viewable, high-impact ad formats for brands, agencies and publishers looking to maximize ROI. They serve their global client base through unmissable digital ad formats using patented ad serving technology. They selected Digital Realty because we offer a flexible solution they could customize as they grew as well as connectivity to global Internet providers.

Turning to our backlog on Page 11. The current backlog of leases signed but not yet commenced stepped up from $99 million as of September 30, to $116 million at year-end. The lag between signings and commencements during the fourth quarter was a bit better than our long-term historical average at 4 months.

Moving on to renewal leasing activity on Page 12. We signed $117 million of renewals during the fourth quarter, in addition to new leases signed. As you may recall, 2019 was our all-time high in terms of lease expirations, and we signed over $500 million of renewal leasing in 2019, more than 50% higher than our previous record year, with a weighted average lease term of nearly 9 years. For the full year, we retained a little over 80% of expiring leases, right in line with our long-term average, while cash rents rolled down 1.3%, much better than our initial expectation of down high single digits.

As you may recall, we successfully executed both legacy DLR long term, top customer renewals as well as the long-weighted legacy DFT customer renewal in 2019. As you can see from the lease expiration schedule on Page 13, less than 16% of the portfolio expires in any given year compared to the 23% we faced at the beginning of last year, which should set the stage for a low churn or hurdle going forward.

Aside from the few select supply-constrained regions in metro areas, we have yet to see broad-based rental rate growth across most markets. However, we are continuing to make significant progress cycling through peak vintage renewals. The lion's share of our portfolio has recently been leased at current market rates, and we are beginning to see barriers to entry emerge in a growing number of markets around the world. As a result, we expect to see continued gradual improvement on cash re-leasing spreads into 2020 and beyond.

In terms of fourth quarter operating performance, overall portfolio occupancy slipped 60 basis points to 86.8% due to a handful of move-outs across the portfolio. After successfully navigating the record expiration year in 2019, we expect to generate positive net absorption in 2020, with improving portfolio occupancy on the heels of significant progress backfilling this recently available capacity. For the full year, same capital cash NOI was down 4%, at the low end of our guidance and reflecting an 80 basis point FX headwind, continued pressure on property taxes as well as the record high lease expirations in 2019. Although we still face some same-store headwinds from higher property taxes in downtime from refurbishing and re-leasing available capacity, we do expect to see improvement going forward.

The U.S. dollar continued to climb relative to prior year exchange rates. And FX represented roughly a 70 basis point headwind to the year-over-year growth in our reported results from the top to the bottom line.

Turning to our economic risk mitigation strategies on Page 14. We manage currency risk by issuing locally denominated debt to act as a natural hedge, so only our net assets within a given region are exposed to currency risk from an economic perspective. In addition to managing foreign currency exposure, we also mitigate interest rate risk by proactively terming out short-term variable rate debt with long-term fixed-rate financing. Given our strategy of matching the duration of our long-lived assets with long-term fixed-rate debt, a 100 basis point move-in LIBOR would have less than a 20 basis point impact to full year FFO per share. Our near-term funding and refinancing risk is very well-managed, and our capital plan is fully funded.

In terms of earnings growth, core FFO per share was down 3.6% year-over-year, primarily due to 2 months of dilution from the Mapletree joint venture. While we are not providing formal guidance for 2020 at this time given the number of moving parts related to our pending strategic combination with Interxion as well as the acquisition of our partners' interest in the Westin Building, we did want to share a few forward-looking data points. On a stand-alone basis, we expect reported top line revenue growth for Digital Realty to be roughly flat year-over-year, reflecting the full year impact of $1.4 billion of asset sales as well as a 1 quarter consolidated revenue contribution from Ascenty in 2019, prior to closing the joint venture with Brookfield on the last day of 1Q '19. Adjusting for the revenue related to these private capital efforts and excluding any potential contribution from the Westin Building acquisition, we expect to generate organic revenue growth in the mid-single digits in 2020. We expect to maintain industry-leading EBITDA margins in line with the prior year.

In terms of financing, we have positioned the balance sheet with outsized liquidity in anticipation of closing the combination with Interxion. In January, we closed on the $557 million Mapletree portfolio sale at a 6.6% cap rate. We also successfully raised EUR 1.7 billion of euro bonds at a blended coupon of 1%. As you may recall, EUR 1.4 billion of these euro bonds will initially be used to refinance Interxion's outstanding debt. These bonds included a special mandatory redemption provision and will be retired at 101% of par if the Interxion transaction does not close. Last, but not least, we expect to settle our $1.1 billion equity forward in the third quarter.

Hopefully, this high-level color provides some context for our 2020 outlook, and we expect to provide formal guidance, along with the underlying assumptions, on the heels of closing the combination with Interxion.

Last, but certainly not least, let's turn to the balance sheet on Page 15. Net debt-to-EBITDA dropped by 4/10 of a turn to 5.7x at year-end as proceeds from the Mapletree joint venture were used to pay down debt, while fixed charge coverage remained healthy at 4.1x. Pro forma for the Mapletree portfolio sale in settlement of the forward equity offering, net debt-to-EBITDA, remains in line with our targeted range at approximately 5x, while fixed charge coverage is approximately 4.6x.

In terms of capital-raising activity, in early October, we raised $345 million of perpetual preferred equity at 5.2%, an all-time low preferred equity coupon for Digital Realty. The next day, we opportunistically tapped the euro bond market, raising approximately EUR 550 million of 8.5-year paper at 1.125%. Finally, in early January, we came back to the euro bond market and raised the EUR 1.7 billion of euro bonds to refinance Interxion's outstanding debt. As Bill mentioned, the weighted average maturity was approximately 7 years and the weighted average coupon was approximately 1%. This successful execution against our financing strategy is a reflection of the strength of our global platform, which provides access to the full menu of public as well as private capital, sets us apart from our peers and enables us to prudently fund our growth.

As you can see from the chart on Page 16, our weighted average debt maturity is over 6 years, and including the January bond issuance, we whittled our weighted average coupon down another 25 basis points this quarter to 2.9%. A little less than half our debt is non-U. S. dollar-denominated, acting as a natural FX hedge for our investments outside the U.S. Over 90% of our debt is fixed rate to guard against a rising rate environment, and 99% of our debt is unsecured, providing the greatest flexibility for capital recycling.

Finally, as you can see from the left side of Page 16, we have a clear runway with virtually no near-term debt maturities and a no-bar-too-tall in the out years. Our balance sheet is poised to weather a storm, but also position to fuel growth opportunities for our customers around the globe, consistent with our long-term financing strategy.

This concludes our prepared remarks, and now we'll be pleased to take your questions. Sean, would you please begin the Q&A session?

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Questions and Answers

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Operator [1]

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(Operator Instructions)

Our first question will come from Jon Atkin with RBC.

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Jonathan Atkin, RBC Capital Markets, Research Division - MD and Senior Analyst [2]

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So my first question is around the transaction with Interxion and wondering if you have any sort of thoughts about the anticipated timing around the foreign investments filings in France and Germany that you alluded to. And then as you proceed with planning, I know you're understandably limited to a degree prior to the close. What steps are you able to take over in Europe prior to the transaction close to facilitate the integration once the deal is concluded?

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Gregory S. Wright, Digital Realty Trust, Inc. - CIO [3]

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Yes. Hey, John, it's Greg Wright. Let me take your question. The first one, with respect to where we are in the Interxion transaction, again, specifically, let's just go through a couple of things. We have received antitrust clearances, as Bill said, in all 3 jurisdictions where we need approval in terms of Austria, Germany and the Netherlands. And that's on the antitrust clearance side. We're still awaiting decisions for the foreign investment filings in both France and Germany. And look, we're -- I think one thing that's encouraging is we're already in both of those markets. And then trying to handicap when that comes back, it's hard to do. But we will say, so far, we feel like we're making progress where we should be. And that's really all we have at this point, but we'll continue to announce to the market as we get additional findings there. That was your first question.

On the second question, with respect to the steps to integration, we're currently planning for our integration, as you can imagine. So far, though, the primary focus has been on regulatory approvals, going effective with the SEC and launching our exchange officer. And then we have started to ramp up the integration effort with our colleagues in Interxion. We've gotten to the point where we're identifying people and teams to lead the integration. We've identified and we're working with integration consultants. And we're at a point where we're allowed to have certain people on both sides connect with each other. And clearly, we're making sure that we always consult with the lawyers to make sure we do the right things, where we can and can't. So that's where we are with respect to that.

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Jonathan Atkin, RBC Capital Markets, Research Division - MD and Senior Analyst [4]

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Great. And then maybe just to follow up more on the operational side. But PlatformDIGITAL, curious which metros you've been seeing the most commercial progress towards driving more connectivity-driven and retail business? And any color around sales cycles? And is there any kind of lengthening or shortening that you're seeing as well as kind of book-to-bill trends? You talked about that, I think, maybe in reference to wholesale, but anything sort of commercially as it relates to connectivity and then retail and PlatformDIGITAL would be interesting to hear.

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Corey Dyer, Digital Realty Trust, Inc. - EVP of Global Sales & Marketing [5]

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Hey, Jordan. This is Corey Dyer. Just going to help out with the PlatformDIGITAL question you had. And you asked a little bit about where we see it happening and where we see it taking root to begin. And I would tell you that PlatformDIGITAL really is about enterprise and selling globally. So it's not really a situation where we're going to look at specific markets for it. But that said, we launched it in November in MarketplaceLIVE, our new event that we put out or resurrected. Really good feedback from all the media analysts, the analysts themselves. If you look at the IDC report that we referenced earlier, it has us up in the leader segment for that, along with one other group. So really happy with how it's been rolled out and what we're seeing from traction with customers.

So it's been great there across the entire globe for us. We referenced earlier a couple of different wins. We had one of the largest investment banks deploy 6 different network hubs with us to help out with their architecture as well as servicing their customers and their employees. We also had a large agricultural firm do the same kind of deployment across multiple regions with us. So we've seen it pick up really well for us.

And then I think your questions around commencement date was the follow-on question, I think, Jordan. And what we think we're going to see is a little bit shortening of that. To your point around wholesale, we tend to see that commence a little bit later. These are going to drive a little bit more colocation for us, a lot more enterprise wins, and you'll see a much quicker or shorter time between booking and commencement. I think that answered all the questions. Greg, do you have anything else?

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Gregory S. Wright, Digital Realty Trust, Inc. - CIO [6]

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No, I think you've covered it.

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Operator [7]

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Our next question will come from Jordan Sadler with KeyBanc Capital Markets.

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Jordan Sadler, KeyBanc Capital Markets Inc., Research Division - MD and Equity Research Analyst [8]

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So I just wanted to circle up to the Seattle acquisition that you announced and discussed on the call here. The thought process on this transaction and the return profile relative to sort of legacy digital and perhaps as well as the growth profile versus digital. And then maybe thinking how this sort of corresponds or relates to sort of what you're doing over in Europe, if at all.

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Gregory S. Wright, Digital Realty Trust, Inc. - CIO [9]

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Yes. Jordan, it's Greg. Let me take that question. Look, with respect to the Westin transaction, look, I think Bill had gone through really the merits of the transaction, whether it's boosting connectivity and network density. As he mentioned, it's the sixth most interconnected building in North America. You have 250-plus networks and over 10,000 cross-connects. It really is the Internet Gateway to the Pacific Northwest. And we look at it in terms of connectivity. First of all, the way the process started is our partner has been a terrific partner, the Clise family and their company. We've had a long-standing relationship with them, and they decided they wanted to sell. So for us, given how much -- and we've always said our strategy has been that we want to increase our ownership to Internet Gateway and highly connected assets. And really, when you match your mandate, you can't get any better than the Westin Building. So that was really the rationale behind it.

In terms of returns, look, I will say, it's sort of a mid- to high-5% cap rate, call that a little less than 18x on an EBITDA multiple basis. And in terms of growth projections, I mean, clearly, with any of these highly connected Internet Gateway buildings, we expect greater growth, one than our portfolio average, just because these buildings, as we know, from Cermak and 60 Hudson and the like, those buildings are very special. And so you really do get outsized growth with them. So that was really the strategic rationale.

In response to your question with respect to Europe, it's a very similar strategy when you really think about it, right? In terms of the Interxion transaction, I mean, we've said for quite some time now we've had several objectives. One was we did want to expand our footprint in Europe. Secondly, we wanted to increase our ownership, again, of Internet Gateway and highly connected assets. We really were striving for a leading European platform and team. And with all that, we were looking for a significant development platform. And needless to say, with Interxion, we get all of that.

And so what are the real benefits to Digital there? We're going to get a broader footprint and product offering to serve our customers, which is most important in Europe and beyond. We're going to be able to do a lot of what they do best and overlay that onto our portfolio. That too is going to result, just as we talked about the Westin Building and accelerated growth. And ultimately, with the combination of all that, it's going to result in increased value creation in our minds.

So I think I covered your questions, Jordan. Is there anything I missed? Please let me know.

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Jordan Sadler, KeyBanc Capital Markets Inc., Research Division - MD and Equity Research Analyst [10]

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No. I think you nailed it. I assume you're going to close in the next couple of months or so. But as it relates to -- I'll move on to Ashburn. I wanted to come back. It sounded like, yes, you are quietly signing some significant leases there, 18 megs. Can you maybe provide sort of the -- were there any new logos in that market signed in the quarter? The -- and then anything else you can sort of -- any other insight you can offer in terms of availability within your portfolio? You said you're -- I thought you said part of -- I thought you said you were largely leased on your development there, but it sounds like you were sorting out some -- or scoping out some availability as well.

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Matt Mercier, Digital Realty Trust, Inc. - SVP of Finance [11]

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Yes, Jordan, this is Matt. So I think we've had a lot of success in Northern Virginia, both this quarter and last quarter. This quarter, Northern Virginia was our #1 market for leasing. And overall, I think as we've said in the prepared commentary, the market really come -- had really come back in the second half of the year. And although absorption was down a bit from 2018, it was actually higher than 2017 overall.

I think to your question -- specific question, subsequent to the end of the quarter, we leased another 20 megawatts in that market. 12 megawatts of those were in the -- our development portfolio, which now brings that up to 100% leased. And another 8 megawatts was within our operating portfolio, which was already, I think, slightly over 90% leased. So it proves the occupancy in that market as well, so we're excited about the Northern Virginia market and we're continuing to see robust demand there.

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Christopher Sharp, Digital Realty Trust, Inc. - CTO [12]

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Yes. Thanks, Jordan. I'd also like to add a little bit of a -- just the overall work that we've done in that market with our master plans and our land-banking. It really allows us to be very prudent on how we can bring infrastructure to our customers in a very balanced manner. And I think new logos is one way to look at it, but it's also new types of infrastructure coming to market. So as you see AI and machine learning becoming more prevalent with all of these major providers, they want to be in proximity to their existing infrastructure.

So the work that we've done in that market, the master plan, the right-of-ways and really start to think through how we can future-proof their existing assets and provide a path for them to grow and launch all these new services is something that's very unique in that market, and we continue to look at the future growth there and be differentiated in what we can provide to a lot of those customers.

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Operator [13]

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Our next question will come from Michael Funk with Bank of America.

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Michael J. Funk, BofA Merrill Lynch, Research Division - VP [14]

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A couple, if I could. And just kind of following on to the last question. It's going to be a pretty wide range of commentary about the funnel and hyperscale demand in general. Maybe just tie that back to your commentary about Ashburn, what you're seeing there and the funnel in general. And then one on Interxion, if I could. Maybe remind me about the taxability for that deal for Interxion investors and the other details behind that.

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Corey Dyer, Digital Realty Trust, Inc. - EVP of Global Sales & Marketing [15]

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So Michael, this is Corey. I'll take the first part of the question around just the Ashburn competition because I think that's where you're driving and we'll ferry out somebody else for the other questions around taxes. First off, yes, we've been successful in Ashburn, really about the value of our platform and really the diverse offering that we have. You think about what we've got with customers that are already there and how they're going to build on to it. So we've got some customers already installed there, and they're looking for adjacency in the campus, adjacency sometimes in the same building, so that helps us a lot. These same customers are the -- are often the scaling customers that we're working with globally and having the relationships and the contracts, and everything we do to take care of them on a regular basis helps us continue to win those deals and those opportunities.

And then finally, yes, we're working through the Tetris game of how we accommodate the demand that's continuing to come for us and make sure that we're there to take care of them and continue to build on our success in Ashburn.

So we're excited about it. And I think you also asked about our qualified pipeline, and we're feeling really strong about that. So we're well positioned for this year with a good start.

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Michael J. Funk, BofA Merrill Lynch, Research Division - VP [16]

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And then just following on -- now I've got a follow-on I've got to clarify there. So I mean, are you saying that because of the diversity of the customer base is, I guess, 80 new with some of the bookings that you're seeing, a more diverse customer base, whether it's industry-wide or geographically. Is that part of what we're seeing here?

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Matt Mercier, Digital Realty Trust, Inc. - SVP of Finance [17]

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Yes, yes. Let me -- this is Matt. Let me take -- I mean we saw in Northern Virginia we had pretty widespread activity across multiple customers within cloud, content and gaming, really leading the way within that market and also a number of international clients coming into Northern Virginia. So we had major signings of also APAC-based technology companies within that market as well in the quarter, and we expect to continue that going forward.

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Gregory S. Wright, Digital Realty Trust, Inc. - CIO [18]

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Yes. Hey, Michael. It's Greg. Sorry to interrupt you there before. And look, with respect to your second question on taxation of the Interxion transaction, you're right. Like as we had outlined in the S-4 and had actually mentioned on the original call, the deal is a taxable transaction for U.S. federal income tax purposes for U.S. holders of the Interxion shares. But I think there's a couple of things to consider. Look, there were numerous tax considerations when we structured this deal. Their side was well represented and as was ours. We worked, and ultimately, what we're trying to find is what's the most efficient structure, quite frankly, that allow us to pay the price that we pay.

And so there's a couple of points. And the structure we ultimately came up with was that structure, but a couple of points to highlight. One is, not all shareholders pay U.S. tax, some are exempt. And secondly, not all shareholders have the same basis, right? If somebody bought yesterday, they may have a very minimal gain if they sold today. Third, and I think most bankers will tell you when you look at it, taxable transactions are more common when the market value of what's being paid is significantly greater than the tax basis. And the reason for that, obviously, is if you get the stepped-up basis, you get tax shelter going forward, which allows us to retain significantly more capital in the company to grow the business, hence, the ability to pay.

So -- and then finally, I think it's important to note, that the way we've structured the transaction, that all tendering shareholders, it's structured such that they will be able to avoid the 15% Dutch withholding tax as long as they tender. So I hope that answers your question with respect to the tax impact.

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Operator [19]

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Our next question will come from Michael Rollins with Citi.

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Michael Rollins, Citigroup Inc, Research Division - MD and U.S. Telecoms Analyst [20]

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I had 2 questions on some of the metrics. So first, in terms of the commentary on cash re-leasing spreads, can you unpack a little bit more of what happened in the quarter and the experience that you're seeing between the retail and colo side of the business and maybe some of the larger deployments from your customers? And then there was a comment about expecting the same-store NOI to be better. And I was wondering if that meant, for 2020, less of a decline or actually net positive growth. And just how to think about what's happening in the mix of all of that?

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Matt Mercier, Digital Realty Trust, Inc. - SVP of Finance [21]

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Yes. So let me take the -- your second question, then we can circle back on your first one. So within the quarter, yes, we came in at, in terms of stabilized NOI growth, at the lower end. I think as we said in the commentary, we had about a percent negative impact from FX rates. We also had another percent coming in from higher, what I call, uncontrollable costs, costs largely around property taxes. And then I would say the remaining was tied to what we've also discussed, which was our record expiration year in 2019 despite also having roughly 80% retention, which is a pretty good metric.

What I'd say though there is where we see the green shoots is, in the fourth quarter, we leased 15 megawatts into available inventory, which during the quarter was about 40% of our total signing. And sitting in our backlog today, we have about 100 basis points of improved occupancy. And the vast majority of our available inventory right now, I think, is in high-demand core markets that we feel pretty positive about the progress within our organic growth going forward. And I think that kind of dovetails also into re-leasing spread. We had within the -- more within the year, we re-leased over -- like we said, a record year, we re-leased over $500 million, slightly down, but also did better than we expected. Next year, we have a step down in volume of expirations in 2021. So we feel pretty positive about our mark-to-market experience going forward on that front.

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Operator [22]

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Our next question will come from Erik Rasmussen with Stifel.

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Erik Peter Rasmussen, Stifel, Nicolaus & Company, Incorporated, Research Division - Analyst [23]

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Circling back on the deal you announced yesterday with the 49% -- additional 49%, the Westin property, what's the ability to sort of expand internally, or is there any sort of adjacent land that you could potentially develop on that you can capture additional opportunities?

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Christopher Sharp, Digital Realty Trust, Inc. - CTO [24]

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Yes. Thanks, Erik. This is Chris. So definitely, we're very excited about the Westin building. There is some ability to expand there. And with some of the new offerings that Bill and Matt talked about in the script earlier around some of the new offerings that we're bringing to market and how they're leveraging a lot more interconnection, we'll be able to provide more value to the existing customer base in there. And there is some more power that we can bring through there. And I think ownership really gives us that ability to really control exactly how we evolve that infrastructure and really make sure that we get the maximum return for our customers. And I'll hand the second part of your question over to Greg and talk about adjacent land.

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Gregory S. Wright, Digital Realty Trust, Inc. - CIO [25]

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Yes. Thanks, Chris. Thanks, Erik. Look, in terms of adjacent land, I think one thing that's important, we do own the building next door with our partners at Clise. That's important to remember. But I think one thing about leasing is it's not just the land next door, I think we need to look at the connectivity into Canada and to Asia Pacific, even into our Hillsboro project. When you look at all that, it's going to give us connectivity across the board than a lot of connection points. So that's one of the things that's great value with a project like the Westin, is it goes beyond just the immediately adjacency next door, but instead, it goes much broader, given the connectivity, subsea cables and other things that provide us with that connectivity. So that would be my answer with that. But we -- but of there is a building -- if there is land next door and anybody knows about it, please let us know because we like the site.

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Erik Peter Rasmussen, Stifel, Nicolaus & Company, Incorporated, Research Division - Analyst [26]

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Right. All right. And then maybe just my follow-up. Any sort of update on Brazil and what's sort of happening with the Ascenty, how much did they contribute to the Americas this quarter? And are you seeing things start to -- what's your assessment of that market right now?

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Gregory S. Wright, Digital Realty Trust, Inc. - CIO [27]

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Erik, it's Greg. Let me -- why don't I answer the first question, and then -- let me answer your second question, and I'll let Matt answer the first question. Look, I think when we look at Ascenty and you take a look at 2019 versus budget, we're on top of our writing for 2019. And I think a couple of important takeaways in that market. We saw a lot of the large U.S. cloud service providers take a lot of space over the last 24 months. With that said, I want to make sure we're clear on -- if you guys remember, when we did that transaction, there were 14 assets, there are 8 existing assets and 6 under construction. Those 14 assets right now are 99% leased. So I think that's important when we look at underlying demand. And the Ascenty platform remains, in our opinion, the dominant platform in the region.

So we think we're going to continue to see significant follow-on growth opportunities in additional markets like Chile. And we think what you'll see is, again, we think there was a slight pause in this last quarter. But we'll see that like we see elsewhere, you'll see the demand start to come back from the customers at that point, once they absorb, and we think you're going to see demand pick up. And we think Chris and his team have done a terrific job, and they have an attractive pipeline for 2020. But in terms of how much it contributed, Matt would be better positioned to answer that.

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Matt Mercier, Digital Realty Trust, Inc. - SVP of Finance [28]

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Yes. I mean I think it was -- the contribution to the quarter was minimal, but what we're seeing right now in the first quarter is an acceleration. They've already signed in the first quarter more than they did in the fourth quarter. So positive momentum there in the South American portfolio, similar to what we're seeing in our overall portfolio as the cloud providers continue to ramp up what we see as their demand overall.

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Christopher Sharp, Digital Realty Trust, Inc. - CTO [29]

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Right. Maybe just a little bit of -- this is Chris. Just on the PlatformDIGITAL element that we talked about in the script, I think you're seeing early days of a lot of customers going into that market. And so we really see that ecosystem starting to really build out there, and it's a critical element that I think it's important to highlight the fact that it's a customer-led expansion down there. And so it's still early days, like Matt was referencing.

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Operator [30]

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Our next question will come from Simon Flannery with Morgan Stanley.

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Simon William Flannery, Morgan Stanley, Research Division - MD [31]

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Interesting to get the commentary on Ashburn. That's encouraging. Can you just talk about to what extent there's sort of changes in the competitive dynamic there? Are you seeing any change in the kind of positioning of the private players in terms of committing capital or delaying builds, any supply side changes? And then it's good to see the lease renewals being spread out from here. But are there any particular churn events we should be aware of? Or do you expect churn to be fairly linear through the year?

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Christopher Sharp, Digital Realty Trust, Inc. - CTO [32]

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Thanks, Simon. This is Chris. Definitely, Ashburn is a phenomenal market. It's very unique in the industry as we all know. But definitely, from the private competitors, I think one of the things that's often overlooked is the fact that platforms matter and their increasing importance to our customers, where they have access to broader revenue in every major market around the globe, and I think also the fact that you can land and expand with us and the work that we've done to build out land banks and beyond what some of these smaller private companies are able to achieve. So that's really a big differentiator for us.

And then the overall supply, like we had referenced earlier, the fact that we've worked with our VMI, or vendor-managed piece, and a lot of our buildouts there. We're very prudent in the way that we can accelerate and build capacity in a very flexible manner to meet that customer requirement. And I'll kind of hand the -- Greg off for the second part of your question there.

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Gregory S. Wright, Digital Realty Trust, Inc. - CIO [33]

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Yes. Thanks, Chris. And Simon, I would say, I echo obviously everything Chris said. And the other important factor here is, look, I think by definition, when you look and see if the supply and demand situation still exists in Northern Virginia, that we'd be very surprised if you see any private new capital coming and deployed a development property in that market. Now what we have seen is some of that space, to Chris' point, where they may not be leased, that's where you see some of the concessions and the like occurring, but we're keeping our eye on that as well.

Going back to Bill Stein's routes to be opportunistic, and that's one of the reasons Bill and Andy are always preaching that, and Matt, that we always keep the balance sheet pristine and be ready. So look, I think that's how -- as Chris said, he talked about the advantages we're having in the market. We're having success, but we think that's because of our platform. And so, look, we'll look to take advantage otherwise to the extent we can.

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Simon William Flannery, Morgan Stanley, Research Division - MD [34]

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Anything on churn?

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Matt Mercier, Digital Realty Trust, Inc. - SVP of Finance [35]

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Yes. I'll hit on the churn. I mean I think as you kind of saw in our slides and our remarks, we had an elevated overall expiration pool this year, but our churn was relatively in line with our historical average, around 80%. We've got a pretty material step down in our expiration pool for next year. And we're actually expecting our churn to be even -- well, I'm sorry, our retention to be even better in 2020 than what we experienced in 2019. So we're pretty positive about our overall portfolio and the management of the lease that's coming back at us in 2020.

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Operator [36]

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Our next question will come from Aryeh Klein with BMO Capital.

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Aryeh Klein, BMO Capital Markets Equity Research - Analyst [37]

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On the M&A front, clearly a lot on the plate with Interxion and Westin in the works. But Equinix recently announced the acquisition of Packet. And I was interested in your views on whether Digital could pursue similar types of deals as you build out the interconnection platform. And are those things customers are asking for?

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Christopher Sharp, Digital Realty Trust, Inc. - CTO [38]

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No. Thanks, Aryeh. This is Chris. I'm happy to talk through that. So it was definitely something that was expected in the market. I think the way that we look at this is a philosophical difference there, where we really look at our platform as being open. And one of the core things that we value is not competing with our customers and partners. And one of the things that we often look at is how can we invest in them as rather than compete with them. And so some of the work that we've done building out one of the largest SDN fabrics of the world with our Service Exchange, which is powered by Megaport, is something critical to us.

But one of the other key elements inside of this is it doesn't change our focus, right, where we're building the only global fit-for-purpose data center platform, and it's underpinned by an open ecosystem approach, which we want to allow our partners to provide those higher-value -- or not higher-value, higher-up-the-stack services like Packet is providing. And so we see our approach in being a foundational element to a lot of our partners and customers, being able to service that bare metal opportunity that Packet has looked at, because there's a lot of customers out there that have already solved that. And so we'd rather focus on solving for more of the data gravity issues and building out a fit-for-purpose capability for global reach or partnering with the capability, if you will. So that's kind of how we view that transaction happening in the market, but we still see ourselves as aligning with our partners and customers and empowering their solutions in a unique way to solve for this enterprise need on a global basis.

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Operator [39]

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Our next question will come from Rob Palmisano with Raymond James.

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Robert Palmisano; Raymond James Financial Services;Equity Research Associate, [40]

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Frank made me -- let me make the call. So I want to follow up on that on the Packet thing and possibly adding some additional tools. I mean I understand the industry not wanting to compete with the customers. And I've consistently heard that. But do you think maybe there's a point where the industry is a little too religious on that? And there could be some more commoditized things, the networking and some other elements where you could be leaving some money on the table and wouldn't necessarily irritate the customers? Are you getting more direct feedback from them?

And then secondly, to follow up, what are you seeing as far as potential rent rolldowns? And do you think there's a risk of any -- of higher churn this year from any customers that might walk rather than move the rent down?

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Christopher Sharp, Digital Realty Trust, Inc. - CTO [41]

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No, absolutely. I'll take the first part of that question. So one of the things that I think is great about Digital, and we spent a tremendous amount of time is, we're customer-led, right? And our extreme customer focus is we listen to what their needs are. And one of the elements is you do what you do well, right? And just continue to do that. And one of the things that we have done very well, which is centered around PlatformDIGITAL is, again, that global reach and that repetitive nature of a fit-for-purpose product, right? That's very unique in the industry that allows customers to do cab, cage or megawatt. But one of the things that we've looked at is in these higher-up-the-stack services, it's not in our remit.

And so when we see a lot of these things happen in other industries, either the service fails or that the service becomes pretty complacent rather quickly. So because it's an ever-evolving landscape, particularly around bare metal, and there's a lot of customers out there -- or companies out there that are creating these bare metal solutions, what we see is happening in the market is you have purpose-built infrastructure for certain types of workloads, right? And so a tuck-in acquisition like this will only give you so much benefit for so long. And us being able to align with some of the bellwether powerhouses in the industry would be a better solution for our enterprises to really get the full benefit out of the deployment with Digital. And the second part of the question, I'll hand it over to Matt.

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Matt Mercier, Digital Realty Trust, Inc. - SVP of Finance [42]

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Yes, I think your question, again, was kind of centered on churn and mark-to-market. And again, I kind of reiterate some of the comments. So we worked through a 25%, almost, of our portfolio this year. We have a material step down in the amount of pool of our leases and contracts expiring next year. We feel bullish both on our ability to retain above average within that pool expiring in this year now in 2020 as well as our ability to maintain rates and be positive on that front.

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Operator [43]

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This will conclude our question-and-answer session. I would like to turn the conference back over to Bill Stein for any closing remarks.

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Arthur William Stein, Digital Realty Trust, Inc. - CEO & Director [44]

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Thank you, Sean. I would like to wrap up our call today by recapping our 2019 highlights as outlined here on the last page of our presentation. First, we strategically expanded our global platform, entering Chile with an anchor lease with a leading global cloud provider, acquiring a key land parcel in Seoul, Korea and reaching agreements to explore a joint venture in India with the Adani Group and to combine with Interxion to create a leading global provider of cloud and carrier-neutral data center solutions with an enhanced presence in Europe.

Two, we successfully executed on our private capital initiative, closing $1.4 billion of asset sales over the last 3 months and redeploying those proceeds into highly-strategic investments. Three, we launched PlatformDIGITAL, a unique global data center platform designed to enable customers to scale digital business. And we landed a record number of new logos in 2019. Last, but not least, we further strengthened our balance sheet, raising $3.4 billion of long-term debt and preferred equity at a weighted average coupon of 3.1%.

As I do every quarter, I'd like to conclude today by saying thank you to the entire Digital Realty team whose hard work and dedication is directly responsible for this consistent execution. Thank you all for joining us, and we hope to see many of you on the spring conference circuit.

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Operator [45]

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The conference has now concluded. Thank you for attending today's presentation, and you may now disconnect.