As the realities of COVID-19’s impact on the economy become clearer, businesses are looking to strengthen their capital reserves for immediate needs and other core activities.
A growing number of retailers, logistics firms and other corporate real estate users are selling their assets for an influx of cash. By using leasebacks, they are able to retain possession of their facilities.
“They sell the property to a third party buyer and then lease it back under a traditional long-term triple-net operating lease,” says Jeff Berryhill, a principal at Stonemont Financial Group. “The objective is to be able to redeploy that capital for a higher and better use.”
Right now, there are a lot of places where these sellers can put that capital. “The question is, with all the other opportunities they have to deploy capital, whether that is to pay down debt, make acquisitions or invest in technology or people, should they also own that real estate?” Berryhill says. “So, I think the sale/leaseback transaction is getting a lot of interest in the market right now.”
The sale/leaseback financial arrangement may also be able to provide the tenant with more favorable rent terms thanks to record-low interest rates.
“I think all companies are being forced to think more strategically about their capital,” Berryhill says. “It’s easy to get complacent when it’s a good market. In times like these, you have to sit down and look at all the places you’re deploying capital and make decisions.”
Stonemont has been advising multiple retailers on potential transactions, particularly on distribution centers, and is currently under contract on at least one leaseback expected to close soon.
Recently, there have been several other leasebacks, including a $725 million sale of four distribution centers owned by Big Lots, a transaction in Rochester, NY, involving a manufacturing facility for frozen pie maker SatisPie and a warehouse and distribution center in Chicago for a manufacturer.
“You see a lot of trades in the news,” Berryhill says.
Interested buyers run the gamut from private equity groups, institutional funds and even REITs, though stock prices have hurt their ability to make acquisitions.
“REITs are interested even though they’ve got issues of their own right now, given that their cost of capital is increasing and their stock prices have been beaten up,” Berryhill says. “They’ve traditionally been players in the space to the extent they have capital. They can still probably be competitive, but they have to go raise new capital today to make acquisitions.”
While due diligence on these leaseback sales is more challenging with the COVID-19 shutdowns, Berryhill says it is not impossible.
“It’s a little more cumbersome,” Berryhill says. “You have to give yourself a little bit more time, but we still had a lot of success getting vendors out to assets to do traditional due diligence reports.”