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Equity selling

(Bloomberg) -- Equity Residential, the largest publicly traded U.S. apartment landlord, agreed to sell 27 properties to a joint venture of Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Greystar Real Estate Partners LLC for as much as $1.5 billion.

The transaction values the apartments at about $187,000 per unit, Chicago-based Equity Residential (NYSE: EQR) said Monday. The joint venture is obligated to purchase at least $1.38 billion of assets.

The 8,010 units are located in northern New Jersey, Florida, Phoenix, Denver, Southern California and the Washington, D.C., and San Francisco Bay areas.

Equity, founded by billionaire Sam Zell, said in November that it would be selling some its holdings after agreeing to buy 60 percent of rival landlord Archstone Inc. from Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. (PNK: LEHMQ), a deal that will boost assets in cities where it already had properties.

AvalonBay Communities Inc. (NYSE: AVB), the second-biggest publicly traded apartment landlord, is buying the other 40 percent.

The purchase from Lehman, valued at $6.5 billion in cash and stock, gave Chicago-based Equity 78 properties with 23,110 apartments.

The Archstone acquisitions are located mostly in Washington, D.C.; San Francisco; Southern California; and New York.

The Archstone acquisition will help the Equity expand quickly in coastal cities where expansion is hard because of the scarcity and high cost of land, said Craig Leupold, president of Green Street Advisors Inc., a Newport Beach, Calif.-based research firm, said in November.

Equity is accelerating the disposal of its holdings outside its core growth areas, with plans for as much as $4 billion in sales.

Monday's deal is “evidence that they had their ducks in order from the very beginning in terms of how they were going to finance the Archstone transaction,” Richard Anderson, a REIT analyst with BMO Capital Markets in New York, said.

The sale to Goldman (NYSE: GS) and Greystar is expected to be completed by the end of March.

“With this transaction we will have made significant progress selling assets in our exit markets and non-core assets in primary markets to fund our share of the acquisition of Archstone,” David J. Neithercut, Equity's president and chief executive officer, said.

The $187,000 price per unit is more than the $149,000 average last year for the seven regions in which Equity sold assets, according to Ben Carlos Thypin, director of market analysis at Real Capital Analytics Inc. in New York.
JPMorgan Chase lawsuit

(Bloomberg) -- JPMorgan Chase & Co. said a fraud lawsuit brought by the state of New York over mortgage securities sold to investors must be dismissed because the time for bringing the claims has expired.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's complaint is barred by a three-year statute of limitations, JPMorgan said in papers dated Jan. 4 and filed in New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan.

Schneiderman sued New York-based JPMorgan (NYSE: JPM) in October, alleging that Bear Stearns, the investment bank it acquired in 2008, deceived investors about mortgage loans backing securities, leading to losses. The state has also sued Credit Suisse AG (NYSE: CS) on similar grounds.

JPMorgan also said in its court filing that the case should be dismissed because the state hasn't outlined its allegations with the “requisite particularity.”

The case is People of the State of New York v. J.P. Morgan Securities, 451556-2012, New York State Supreme Court (Manhattan).
Imperial Valley seed

FIVE POINTS, Calif. -- S&W Seed Company announced Monday that it acquired a one-half interest in 182 acres of producing farmland in Calipatria, Calif., in the Imperial Valley.

The 182 acres are adjacent to 1,880 acres of farmland that S&W (Nasdaq: SANW) partly purchased and partly leased in July 2012. The newly acquired farmland will be used to expand S&W's production of alfalfa seed.

S&W paid $819,566, which represented 50 percent of the total purchase price for the land. The transaction closed on December 31, 2012.

Mark Grewal, chief executive officer of S&W, said, "Our recent acquisition of Imperial Valley Seeds, as well as the purchase and lease of 1,880 acres in 2012, gives S&W a solid foothold in the Imperial Valley.

This is strategically important because of the area's ban on GMO alfalfa, which offers an extra assurance to our customers in Middle Eastern and African countries where GMO seed can't be imported.

"Also, alfalfa seed grown in the hot Imperial Valley climate is harvested one or two months earlier than other areas in California. Ideally, this means we can ship to the Middle East and North Africa just in time for planting."
Solar licensing

(Bloomberg) -- First Solar Inc., the biggest maker of thin-film solar products, announced Monday it is licensing technology from Intermolecular Inc. (Nasdaq: IMI) to improve the performance of its panels. The deal extends an existing agreement.

Ted Meyer, a spokesman for the company, wouldn't provide terms in an email.

Tempe, Ariz.-based First Solar (Nasdaq: FSLR) is seeking to raise the efficiency of its cadmium telluride solar-cells, the amount of energy in sunlight that's converted into electricity.

The company expects the partnership to yield “substantial gains” that go beyond previously announced plans, according to the statement.

The effort will augment the company's existing research and development capabilities, enabling “better performance and faster time-to-market,” Raffi Garabedian, First Solar’s chief technology officer, said.

First Solar said Jan. 17 it reached an efficiency record of 14.4 percent using panels produced with factory equipment.

Solar manufacturers are working to increase this rate to get more power from each panel and reduce the cost of solar energy.

First Solar's cadmium telluride panels compete with products made from polysilicon, a technology that’s generally more efficient. San Jose-based SunPower Corp. the largest U.S. maker of polysilicon-based solar products, sells panels with efficiency rates of 20.1 percent.
German IPO

(Bloomberg) -- Goldman Sachs Group Inc., the bank that disposed of its German department store holdings last month, plans to sell shares in a unit that owns homes valued at 4.7 billion euros ($6.1 billion) in the country.

An initial public offering of LEG Immobilien GmbH is planned for the first half, LEG said Monday.

The sale may raise as much as 1 billion euros, said a person with knowledge of the plan.

Another person familiar with the IPO said it will probably take place in early February. Both people asked not to be named because the matter is private.

LEG would be Germany's biggest property IPO if it raises 1 billion euros.

The Dusseldorf-based landlord owns 91,000 apartments in North Rhine Westphalia, Germany's most populous state.

Goldman Sachs' Whitehall Street Real Estate fund holds about 95 percent of the company.

Goldman Sachs (NYSE: GS) and LEG co-owner Perry Capital, which bought the company from the state government for about 3.5 billion euros in 2008, are seeking to profit from a boom in German residential real estate. The FTSE EPRA/Nareit index of German property stocks has gained 42 percent in the past 12 months.

Deutsche Annington Immobilien GmbH, Germany's largest owner of apartments, also plans an IPO this year.

Annington, which has 186,000 apartments, is controlled by Guy Hands' Terra Firma Capital Partners Ltd.
Servicing acquisition

(Bloomberg) -- Nationstar Mortgage Holdings Inc. jumped the most since it went public in March, after saying it will acquire $215 billion in residential mortgage servicing rights from Bank of America Corp. (NYSE: BAC).

The servicer is majority owned by Fortress Investment Group LLC.

Nationstar (NYSE: NSM) is paying $1.3 billion and will more than double its customer base to 2.5 million, the Lewisville, Texas-based company said Monday.

The firm is competing with Ocwen Financial Corp. (NYSE: OCN) and Walter Investment Management Corp. to snap up mortgage servicing rights as they wager they can profit as banks retreat amid new regulations that are driving up costs.

“We're going to continue to look at stuff and continue to grow the flow,” Nationstar Chief Executive Officer Jay Bray said Monday. “Our primary focus is the large transaction.”

Servicers perform billing and collections on home loans and handle foreclosures when borrowers default.

New Wynn exec

(Bloomberg) -- Wynn Resorts Ltd. hired an executive from MGM Resorts International (NYSE: MGM) to head a new development division, signaling it wants to build casinos at a faster pace.

Gamal Aziz will serve as president and chief operating officer of Wynn Resorts Development LLC, Wynn Resorts said Monday. The company is headed by billionaire Stephen Wynn.

“Our activities in North America and Cotai require that the company expand its leadership,” Wynn said. Gamal “will give us a tremendous boost as we begin 2013,” the Las Vegas-based company said.

Cotai is a piece of reclaimed land in Macau, the only place in China where casino gambling is legal, that is being developed into Asia's equivalent of the Las Vegas Strip.

Wynn Resorts, founded in 2002, owns casinos in Las Vegas and Macau and received approval last year for a resort in Cotai.

Wynn Resorts has submitted a proposal for a casino in Philadelphia and is expected to pursue one in Massachusetts after abandoning its first site there last year, according to Michael Weaver, a company spokesman.
'Catastrophic' wildfires

(Bloomberg) -- New South Wales, Australia's most populous state, faces “catastrophic” wildfire conditions Monday with Sydney set to reach 43 degrees Celsius (109 degrees Fahrenheit), after thousands of people were forced from their homes in the nation’s south.

Hundreds of emergency personnel are on standby and a total fire ban has been declared in the state, where about 90 blazes burned through bushland Sunday, according to the NSW Rural Fire Service.

“We're going to see severe, extreme and catastrophic” weather, Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said Sunday. “Fires will start easily and they will spread very quickly.”

Bushfires are also burning in Victoria and South Australia states amid the most wide-ranging heatwave in a decade. Prime Minister Julia Gillard surveyed the devastation in the island state of Tasmania on Sunday after blazes destroyed about 100 properties and displaced about 3,000 people.

A temperature of 43 degrees Celsius in Sydney would be the state capital's third-highest in about 150 years of record-keeping, trailing the record of 45.3 degrees set on Jan. 14, 1939.

Eighty percent of the country recorded temperatures above 40 degrees Celsius last week.
Betting on lenders

(Bloomberg) -- National Bank of Abu Dhabi PJSC surged to a seven-year high on bets lenders in the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) will convince the central bank to delay the implementation of new caps on mortgage lending.

Shares of the U.A.E.'s second-biggest bank by assets rise the highest since April 2006, at the close in Abu Dhabi.

U.A.E. banks will ask the central bank to delay the plan announced at the end of last year by 30 days, two bankers familiar with the matter said Sunday.

The rules limit mortgages for expatriates to 50 percent of property value for a first home, while U.A.E. citizens can finance as much as 70 percent via home loans.

There were previously no restrictions and some banks gave loans of as much as 90 percent of the property value.

Banks also plan to speak with the central bank on new loan-to-value lending limits required for citizens and foreigners, the people said, asking not to be identified because the discussions are private.

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