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Edited Transcript of SUI earnings conference call or presentation 23-Feb-17 4:00pm GMT

Thomson Reuters StreetEvents

Q4 2016 Sun Communities Inc Earnings Call

SOUTHFIELD Feb 23, 2017 (Thomson StreetEvents) -- Edited Transcript of Sun Communities Inc earnings conference call or presentation Thursday, February 23, 2017 at 4:00:00pm GMT

TEXT version of Transcript

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Corporate Participants

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* Gary Shiffman

Sun Communities Inc. - Chairman & CEO

* John McLaren

Sun Communities Inc. - President & COO

* Karen Dearing

Sun Communities Inc. - CFO

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Conference Call Participants

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* Michael Dorman

Citigroup - Analyst

* Nick Joseph

Citigroup - Analyst

* Ryan Burke

Green Street Advisors - Analyst

* Drew Babin

Robert W. Baird & Company, Inc. - Analyst

* Gwen Clark

Evercore ISI - Analyst

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Presentation

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Operator [1]

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Good day, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for standing by. Welcome to the Sun Community's fourth-quarter 2016 earnings conference call on February 23, 2017.

At this time, management would like me to inform you that certain statements made during this conference call, which are not historical facts, may be deemed forward-looking statements within the meaning of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. Although the Company believes the expectations reflected in any forward-looking statements are based on reasonable assumption, the Company can provide no assurance that its expectations will be achieved.

Factors and risks that could cause actual results to differ materially from expectations are detailed in this morning's press release form and from time to time in the Company's periodic filings with the SEC. The Company undertakes no obligation to revise or update any forward-looking statements to reflect events or circumstances after the date of this release.

Having said that, I'd like to introduce management with us today. Gary Shiffman, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer; John McLaren, President and Chief Operating Officer; and Karen Dearing, Chief Financial Officer. I would now like to turn the call over to Mr. Shiffman, CEO. Mr. Shiffman, you may begin.

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Gary Shiffman, Sun Communities Inc. - Chairman & CEO [2]

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Good morning, and thank you for joining us. Sun's 2016 was marked by sustained success in achieving strong results for our stakeholders,

We delivered another year of industry-leading results with same community NOI growth of 7.1% of the year and 9.1% for the fourth quarter, driven by revenue increases of over 6% for the year and the quarter. We've now increased or maintained occupancy for 20 consecutive quarters and ended 2016 with same community occupancy of 96.6% and overall portfolio occupancy of 96.2%.

We expect continued high occupancy going forward, given the strong fundamentals, creating demand for our communities. In 2016, we received more than 45,000 applications for our available home sites, a ratio of 10 applications per available site, supporting our view that Sun offers a compelling, affordable product in desirable locations throughout the United States and Ontario, Canada.

Home sales, another strong indicator of industry demand, was a consistent contributor throughout the year. In 2016, we sold a record number of homes, totaling nearly 3,200, up approximately 28% over 2015, which was our previous record. Of these sales, over 1/3 were former rental homes, which demonstrates the benefits that a well-managed rental program can offer, including filling expansion sites, generating income from otherwise vacant home sites, and introducing future homeowners to our communities.

On the external growth front, we completed our largest single acquisition to date in Carefree, which increased our site count by over 30%. Since 2011, we have executed on our strategic plan to grow our market share in the RV, age restricted, and high barrier to entry markets with either one off or platform acquisitions.

The acquisition of Carefree accelerated our efforts and helped solidify Sun as one of the nation's highest quality manufactured homes and RV owner operators. With Carefree, our resident mix is now 33% age restricted and our geographic profile is further enhanced with broader exposure in the desirable Florida retirement communities and California market.

The breadth and stability of our portfolio provides us with the opportunity to pursue selective value-add acquisitions. Excluding the Carefree acquisition in 2016, we added eight communities, six of which we are planning to reposition, redevelop, and/or retenant. These types of activities are not new to us as we apply and lever the proven methods we have developed across the Sun platform to all of our acquisitions.

We expect these types of value-add acquisitions to continue to be a focus in the coming year as an additional avenue to enhance returns for our shareholders over the next few years. In support of 2016 growth initiatives, we were active in the capital markets, raising over $750 million in equity and $940 million in new or replacement debt at a weighted average cost of 3.67%. We have also taken advantage of favorable market conditions to address substantially all of our 2017 maturities.

We are making solid progress in achieving our target net debt to EBITDA ratio of below 7 times and Karen will provide more detail later in our call. Given the strength of Sun platform and our prospects for future growth, the Board of Directors has decided to raise the per-share dividend by $0.02 per quarter or $0.08 per year, which translates to a 3.1% increase.

We are highly encouraged by our market positioning and the inherent leverage that will drive Sun's growth. For 2017, we are anticipating a solid same-community growth between 6.4% and 6.8% and are adding expansion sites in 18 of our manufactured housing communities and 6 of our RV Resorts as a result of continued strong demand. These expansions, coupled with portfolio-wide demand will, in turn, support a healthy level of home sales in line or better than sales achieved in 2016.

And lastly, the continued maturation of Carefree and the other 2016 acquisitions will also contribute to a year of double-digit FFO growth. Before turning the call over to John McLaren, our Chief Operating Officer, we will discuss the integration of Carefree and our operational results in more detail. I would like to take this time to thank all of our team members at Sun, who once again gave extraordinary efforts to make 2016 such a successful year for the Company. John?

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John McLaren, Sun Communities Inc. - President & COO [3]

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Thanks, Gary. It is my pleasure to speak with you about our 2016 operational performance for the fourth quarter and the year. I've had the opportunity to meet a number of our analysts and investors during 2016 and look forward to interacting with more of you in 2017. Before I jump into Sun's operational performance this past year, I thought it would be appropriate to spend some time discussing the integration of Carefree.

As you're well aware, Sun purchased Carefree in the beginning of June for roughly $1.7 billion, enhancing Sun's irreplaceable portfolio with additional high-quality RV assets, retirement communities, and exposure to the Western states. The RV winter season is in full swing and operations at Carefree are proceeding smoothly. As Gary has discussed in the past, integrating acquisitions is one of Sun's core competencies. Having added approximately $4.3 billion in assets over the past five years, we've developed a very efficient and effective process of integrating large acquisitions onto Sun's platform.

With respect to Carefree, whose integration we now consider to be substantially complete, we successfully on-boarded over 1,300 team members and restructured our asset and property managed teams to ensure that our former Carefree team members had the appropriate support. We view culture as one of the key risk factors in making an acquisition successful, so we gave a great deal of consideration to blending the Carefree and Sun cultures to ensure the team members felt empowered, invested, and secure during the integration process.

Our team sense of ownership and empowerment raises the quality of service provided to our residents, which ultimately serves to strengthen our brand by building what we refer to as our resident salesforce. Culture is everything here at Sun. We treasure what we have collaboratively built.

In addition to culture, we seamlessly merged all of our marketing programs, operating procedures, and financials to ensure continued smooth operations. This is clearly evidenced with the first six months result that exceeded our initial performance expectations for Carefree.

Finally, we refined our capital improvement process, more clearly focusing on needs and timing of deployment. During the due diligence process for each of our acquisitions, we perform a thorough preliminary analysis of expected capital improved projects, which focus on capturing unique repositioning opportunities and enhancing the community to Sun's quality standards. After closing, as we learn more about the asset and its residents, we perform another comprehensive review of budgeted projects to be sure we deliver the right improvements at the right time to create the greatest value per dollar spent.

As a part of the reevaluation process with the Carefree portfolio, we determined that continuing the planned three-year redevelopment of Ocean Breeze in Jensen Beach, Florida, or OBJ, which includes the improvement of existing sites, the addition of expansion sites, and providing for significant new amenities, we instead would take advantage of the high demand for this waterfront location and complete the entire project in 2017.

Although requiring additional planning upfront, and delaying the originally expected completion of a smaller number sites, we believe accelerating the entire project is the right decision to maximize value. As a result of the change, OBJ will not contribute as much in 2017 as originally estimated, impacting accretion by approximately $0.02. So now, let's turn to our operational results.

Our team turned in another excellent quarter. Total revenues increased by 30% over fourth quarter 2015 and 24% for the year as all of our businesses and various growth initiatives across the platform contributed to top-line growth. We added 301 revenue-producing sites in the quarter, bringing the total portfolio occupancy to 96.2% as of year end, up 120 basis points on a year-over-year basis.

Additionally, during 2016, we converted nearly 1,100 former renter households into owners. Our total number of occupied rentals was flat year over year and declined to 10.6% as a percentage of our total developed sites from 13.5% at the beginning of the year.

Turning to our same community results, our same community performance for the quarter and the year continued to deliver solid gains. Same community revenue growth for the quarter and the year was 6.2% and 6.1%, respectively. Same community occupancy increased by 190 basis points to 96.6% year over year. The occupancy increase includes the conversion of approximately 470 RV sites from transient to annual/seasonal and filling 304 expansion sites during the year.

Manufactured housing revenue for the same communities increased by 5.4% for the quarter and 5.6% for the year, while RV revenues for our same communities delivered strong growth of 9.3% for the quarter and 7.5% for the year. The RV revenue gains were comprised of 9.4% growth in annual/seasonal revenues and 9.1% gains in transient revenue for the fourth quarter as compared to the fourth quarter 2015.

For 2016, annual/seasonal revenue gains were 9.4%, while transient revenues grew by 5%. As Karen shared with you over the first three quarters of 2016, operating expenses were running slightly above budget, primarily due to higher-than-expected real estate taxes, which resulted in a 3.7% same community expense increase for the year. However, for the quarter same community expenses improved 0.9%, resulting in a very strong same community NOI growth of 9.1% over the fourth quarter 2015. For the year, same community NOI growth was 7.1%.

Turning now to home sales, Sun had a record year for home sales, which we believe was a testament to the high quality of our communities and the value our properties deliver to our residents. Annual home sales revenues increased by 38.6% over 2015 and 13.3% over fourth quarter 2015.

10% of total homes sold in the year were new with an average sales price of $94,000 and in fact, in the fourth quarter, our average new home selling price was above $100,000 for the first time in the Company's history. Of the total homes sold in the year, 34.3% were purchased by former Sun renters. Our rental program continues to prove to be an effective tool in absorbing expansion inventory and a way to showcase our communities and offer prospective buyers an opportunity to test drive before making a meaningful financial commitment.

At the end of 2016, our rental program was comprised of 10,733 sites with a weighted average rent of $882. All in all, we had a great year operationally and we look forward to another successful year. With that, I will turn the call over to Karen.

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Karen Dearing, Sun Communities Inc. - CFO [4]

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Thanks, John. For the fourth quarter ended December 31, 2016, Sun delivered funds from operations of $0.91 per diluted share, an increase of 12.3% from the prior year's fourth quarter. For the year, FFO was $3.79 per diluted share, a 4.4% year-over-year increase. As John discussed, these results were driven by strong performance across our platform, including solid same community performance, increases in revenue-producing sites, the contribution from Carefree and other acquisitions, and ongoing momentum in home sales.

Now, I'd like to turn to our transaction activity and balance sheet. During the quarter, we completed a $58.5 million secured borrowing with an attractive fixed interest rate of 3.3% and a seven year term. We also repaid $79.1 million of mortgage loans in the fourth quarter and $28.9 million of mortgages in 2017. These repayments substantially addressed our 2017 maturities and a small portion of 2018 maturities.

As of December 31, 2016, Sun had approximately $3.1 billion of debt outstanding with a weighted average interest rate of 4.48% and a weighted average maturity of 8.5 years. At year end 2016, we had $8.2 million of cash on hand and a net debt to trailing 12-month EBITDA ratio of 7.5 times, which shows ongoing progress towards our anticipated leverage in the mid-6 times by mid-2017, as a full 12 months of Carefree EBITDA is recognized.

During the fourth quarter of 2016, and in January 2017, we sold 300,000 shares of common stock through our at-the-market equity sales program at a weighted average price of $76.43 per share. Net proceeds from the sales were $22.6 million.

And now, turning to guidance. In 2017, we expect our FFO for the year to be in a range of $4.16 to $4.24 per diluted share. And FFO for the first quarter of 2017 to be in the range of $1.06 to $1.08 per diluted share. Our FFO guidance does not include any potential capital market activities or perspective acquisitions.

There is seasonality and revenue generation within the portfolio, and today's press release contains additional details on the estimated percentage of FFO per share to be earned in each quarter. There are a number of additional items that I would like to review that should assist you in developing your earnings model for the coming year.

Our 2017 same community portfolio has increased to 231 communities from 219 in 2016. And we anticipate full-year same community NOI growth to be in a range of 6.4% to 6.8%. Our total portfolio weighted average rental rate increase is expected to be 3.6%, and revenue-producing sites are budgeted to increase by 2,600 to 2,800 sites. This includes converting just over 700 transient RV sites to annual/seasonal and filling approximately 700 expansion sites.

During the year, we expect to complete the construction of approximately 1,800 manufactured housing expansion sites in 18 communities and 400 RV sites across 6 communities. Total sales of approximately 3,600 new and pre-owned homes includes expected retro conversion sales of approximately 1,200 homes. And please refer to today's press release for additional detail regarding guidance for 2017. And with that, I'd like to turn the call back to the operator to begin the question-and-answer session.

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Questions and Answers

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Operator [1]

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Thank you. Ladies and gentlemen, at this time we will be conducting a question-and-answer session.

(Operator Instructions)

Nick Joseph, Citigroup.

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Michael Dorman, Citigroup - Analyst [2]

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Hey it's Michael Dorman here with Nick. Gary, or Karen, maybe you can walk through a little bit and talk about G&A growth and coming up this year about 13% growth up to $73 million that's after 35% growth last year and sort of been in this range of 14% to 16% of NOI upwards of 90 basis points and above of GAV. You're almost a $10 billion company, I guess, at one point should we start thinking about efficiencies on the G&A front?

Have you guys gone through a process of trying to reduce G&A in any way so that incremental investments can have a bigger effect on the bottom line? Maybe just help us understand and bridge the gap a little bit of why we continue to see G&A's up -- doubled in three years. So just better understanding of what is going on would be helpful.

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Karen Dearing, Sun Communities Inc. - CFO [3]

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Sure. I have a few things to say about G&A, so we have had very significant growth in the company and the past couple of years. And yes, G&A has grown.

If we're looking from 2016 to 2017 the primary increase -- reasons for the increase are really a full year of salary additions for Carefree personnel we brought on in comparison of partial year of 2016. That plus an increase deferred compensation amortization is really the two reasons for it and as we discussed previously, we hired and we've incentivized our people to assure that performance and the integration of all of those acquired properties.

So, when we look at it, absent those two factors, G&A would be increasing about 2% over last year. And we do our G&A as a percentage of revenue, so we are making good progress to reducing G&A as a percentage of revenue it's down to 7.4% from 7.7% last year. We have a goal of reaching 7% at the end of 2018 at that level I think would be right in line with REIT averages.

We think we're very, very scalable at this time if opportunity should arise and the other thing I want to say about G&A is just a reminder, that we do not perform a property management allocation. If we were to allocate a 4% property managing fee, our G&A approximate 4.7% of revenues for 2017, which we think it's very well in lined with REIT averages.

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Michael Dorman, Citigroup - Analyst [4]

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I think Nick had a question too.

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Nick Joseph, Citigroup - Analyst [5]

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This is Nick. I just want to touch on leverage mentioned 7.5% on trailing and trending to the [mid-6] by mid 2017. I think in past calls you talked about being comfortable under 7 times, I just want to make sure that still the fact and if there's any kind of additional fee leveraging that you expect this year or just the earn-in from Carefree.

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Karen Dearing, Sun Communities Inc. - CFO [6]

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The 6.5 times that we, I noted in my comments are really a reflection of the carefree EBITDA coming in through a full-year Carefree EBITDA coming in through June 2017.

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Nick Joseph, Citigroup - Analyst [7]

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Is your target still below 7 times?

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Karen Dearing, Sun Communities Inc. - CFO [8]

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Our target is below 7 times, we're comfortable where we are at now with the way the properties are growing, you have some natural deleveraging but does give us a little bit of room as far as acquisitions.

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Nick Joseph, Citigroup - Analyst [9]

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Okay, and then just last question on acquisitions, you have been active for the last two years in terms of one-off properties as well as larger portfolio deals. Could you talk about that pipeline today and expectations for 2017, if you think it be more one-off deals or is any larger portfolios on the market?

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Gary Shiffman, Sun Communities Inc. - Chairman & CEO [10]

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Hey Nick it's Gary, I think we look to continue what we would view as normalize acquisitions onesies and twosies. I've shared before, that there are a handful of high quality portfolios out there that us and others tends to track. But there's nothing, I think, in the foreseeable future that right now we're aware of.

So it would be acquisition activity that's normalized year and as I shared in my comments on the last call, we're also looking to lever operations' scalability to create opportunistic value by acquiring maybe some functionally obsolete type communities that are well located and have the ability to benefit from Sun's management. We brought four of them as I shared by the third-quarter call and they'll be a part of what we are doing but just a part of the onesies and twosies we will be acquiring throughout the year.

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Nick Joseph, Citigroup - Analyst [11]

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Thanks.

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Operator [12]

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Thank you. Ryan Burke, Green Street Advisors.

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Ryan Burke, Green Street Advisors - Analyst [13]

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Thank you. Karen, I wanted to make sure I understand your comments on G&A. So you a target of 7% of revenue by, when was it?

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Karen Dearing, Sun Communities Inc. - CFO [14]

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The end of 2018, Ryan.

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Ryan Burke, Green Street Advisors - Analyst [15]

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The end of 2018, and can you talk it's just there how you get there? I mean, how much of this is the assumption of increasing revenues versus the assumption of actually reducing G&A line items or pieces of the line items?

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Karen Dearing, Sun Communities Inc. - CFO [16]

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I think it definitely is a combination of both. We do have pretty strong growth inherent in the portfolio but we are continuing to work on automating our processes I talked about it in prior calls we're doing several projects to improve our efficiencies and to take some of our manual processes into automated processes, so we've expected to be a combination of both.

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Ryan Burke, Green Street Advisors - Analyst [17]

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Okay, and then perhaps a question for John. Your peak rent growth back in early 2000's was 5%, I think you're guiding to something in the mid-3% range for 2017. What would keep Sun [in the] sector more broadly from getting back up to that 5% rent growth number?

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John McLaren, Sun Communities Inc. - President & COO [18]

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This is John. You know, historically, we have been sort of in the world of 2% to 4% increases even in the toughest of economic times and frankly, this is one of the reasons why we've always refer to our industry as somewhat recession resistant. I think if you look at our occupancy growth over these years, I think you would find that we've gone from a rent increase level of about 2.5% range up to what we're guiding to in 2017 up 3.6%.

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Ryan Burke, Green Street Advisors - Analyst [19]

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Okay, so it sounds like we shouldn't necessarily expect that rent growth is going to get back up to that 5% perhaps, even though this is a sort of very recession resistant revenue stream. Perhaps that was just different times?

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John McLaren, Sun Communities Inc. - President & COO [20]

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Yes, I think we could expected to be in the 4%s.

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Ryan Burke, Green Street Advisors - Analyst [21]

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Okay. Okay, and then last question, I think this is my annual check in on Fannie and Freddie. The FHFA at the end of 2016 started to give a little bit of a nudge to Fanny and Freddie trying to figure out how to support channel lending, a lot has to happen for that actually play out. But Gary, what are the implications for your portfolio if and when that happens? It's a great question, Ryan, and I'll give you my annual response.

Which is, after 30 years of being in this industry and hearing from the federal government make requests and Fannie and Freddie respond occasionally. We just really haven't seen it and we don't see anything at this time that we would expect to change, of course, we would welcome additional opportunities to fund homes for our residents but really not aware of any change actually taking place in the foreseeable future. Okay, thank you.

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Operator [22]

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Thank you. Drew Babin, Robert W. Baird.

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John McLaren, Sun Communities Inc. - President & COO [23]

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Good morning.

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Karen Dearing, Sun Communities Inc. - CFO [24]

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Good morning, Drew.

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Drew Babin, Robert W. Baird & Company, Inc. - Analyst [25]

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I was hoping you could walk through kind of the quarter-by-quarter cadence of the new sites being added throughout the year. Could that be more backend loaded or kind of spread evenly throughout the year? Expansion site.

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Karen Dearing, Sun Communities Inc. - CFO [26]

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Yes, Drew, we're going to add 1,800 [homes on each] site in 18 communities. Primarily Michigan from Texas and from Texas as our auto one-off state but they are primarily loaded to the second half of the year.

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Drew Babin, Robert W. Baird & Company, Inc. - Analyst [27]

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Okay. And then, can you talk about the process of converting some of the Carefree transient sites to seasonal and annual and anything that's challenging about that or anything that you've learned throughout that process?

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John McLaren, Sun Communities Inc. - President & COO [28]

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So Drew, this is John. I mean, the conversion of transient sites to annual seasonal sites is really one of our sort of key drivers for occupancy. And it's a process that we have refined over the course of many, many years.

So for us as we found through many of these acquisitions, it's really, because of the refinement in that process it's pretty easy to bolt it on with the acquisitions that we've had and we get pretty good success rate out of the gate. Some of what contributes to that is the level of effort that we put into the communities and, you know, we talked before about how important our relationship with our residents is and when you build that and they see it hit the ground running with the kind of improvements that we do and the relationship that we establish, it bodes well to driving more of our customers that direction. So we're pretty excited about it.

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Drew Babin, Robert W. Baird & Company, Inc. - Analyst [29]

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And lastly, if you could just talk about the directionally the performance of your more mid-Western legacy-type communities versus some of the more recently added age restricted product, more in that Sun belt, is operating performance been roughly more between those two types of portfolios or are you seeing any kind of bifurcation there?

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John McLaren, Sun Communities Inc. - President & COO [30]

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I'd say that really both types of communities performed exceedingly well in 2016. You know, and we don't really look at them differently. Certainly our programs and what we do from a strategic stand point from one to the next might differ a little bit but it's all kind of put in there to make sure we get the most out of the opportunity that's in front of us regardless of whether it's age restricted or a family community.

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Drew Babin, Robert W. Baird & Company, Inc. - Analyst [31]

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All right, great. Thank you.

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Operator [32]

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Thank you. Gwen Clark, Evercore ISI.

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Gwen Clark, Evercore ISI - Analyst [33]

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Hello, good morning. On the age restricted versus all ages is it possible to break out the rent growth between the different asset classes?

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John McLaren, Sun Communities Inc. - President & COO [34]

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Well as far as rent increases, Gwen -- this is John. We really don't break them apart but generally speaking, the all age communities tend to get a little higher rent increase in all economic cycles and experience by the point of increased turnover during more challenging economic cycles.

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Gwen Clark, Evercore ISI - Analyst [35]

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Is it possible to say what that delta was like this year [with these points]?

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Gary Shiffman, Sun Communities Inc. - Chairman & CEO [36]

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I don't think we have it, Gwen but if you want to get back in touch with John or Karen we can probably discuss it a little bit more.

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Gwen Clark, Evercore ISI - Analyst [37]

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Okay, great. And then just one other one, on external growth can you talk about just what you're seeing on the acquisition side and whether you guys are contemplating more dispositions?

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Gary Shiffman, Sun Communities Inc. - Chairman & CEO [38]

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It's Gary, and John you can fill in anything that you want but I think our disposition plan was graphed up in 2014 and we sold about 30 communities and obviously we've been growing since. We identified some communities in the Carefree portfolio that we're under consideration for disposition but we were not able to actually execute on those properties. Since then, under John's oversight in the operations department, we've seen very healthy and significant growth in those actual properties and he has been a proponent of continuing to manage those properties for continued growth and review at some future time.

And on the acquisition side, we expect to -- we do have a very good pipeline, very similar to what we've had in each of the previous years, but as I indicated there all single or double community acquisitions. So, it will be much like previous years where we didn't have platform acquisitions like American Land Lease and Carefree.

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Gwen Clark, Evercore ISI - Analyst [39]

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Okay, that's helpful. Thank you.

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Operator [40]

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Thank you. There are no further questions at this time. That does conclude our question-and-answer session. I will now turn the conference back over to Mr. Gary Shiffman for closing remarks.

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Gary Shiffman, Sun Communities Inc. - Chairman & CEO [41]

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As always, I want to thank everybody for participating. Myself, Karen, and John are available for any follow-up discussions and we certainly look forward to speaking to everybody after first quarter is completed. Thanks.

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Operator [42]

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This concludes today's conference. Thank you for your participation. You may disconnect your lines at this time.