Apart from confusion about whether to vote on director appointments by show of hands or by filling in paperwork, and uncertainty over what impact changes at Ports of Auckland might have, Precinct Properties NZ Ltd’s annual meeting yesterday was all forward progress.
The vote was an odd issue to get caught up in. When company chair Craig Stobo said the vote would be by hand, one shareholder asked: “Are you saying proxies don’t count?”
Shareholders Association representative Grant Diggle told Mr Stobo the association’s longstanding policy was to hold polls, for transparency, disclosure & good governance. Deputy chair Don Hulse – stepping in for Mr Stobo, who was one of 2 directors facing re-election – said the vote would proceed with a show of hands but, if shareholders demonstrated a strong desire for a poll, that would follow.
The vote was strongly in support of re-election and the poll was avoided. But, at another NZX-listed company meeting in the same building a few hours later, unitholders of the Vital Healthcare Property Trust voted by poll, the outcome was delayed, but nobody found it a problem.
Risk profile lowered, portfolio quality up
Mr Stobo said in his address to the meeting Precinct had reduced its risk profile as major developments were completed or passed construction milestones, and it was lifting portfolio quality.
Net profit after tax was up 17.3% to $162.1 million after achieving a revaluation gain of $77.5 million, and net tangible assets/share rose 6% to $1.24.
A bond offer, expected to be opened next week, will continue the company’s diversification of its funding sources. In September, Precinct raised $150 million of 4-year, fixed-rate subordinated convertible notes, reducing its gearing from 25% to 18%. Mr Stobo said both notes & bonds were capital management solutions which suited Precinct’s current strategy & opportunities: “It gives us the comfort of having the capital available to match our development commitments while ensuring that earnings are not diluted in the short term. Post-issue [of the notes], our committed gearing has reduced, supporting growth through a flexible funding option.”
Precinct reviewed its dividend policy last year, matching dividends with cashflow, as defined by adjusted funds from operations (AFFO), with the aim of producing a more transparent & sustainable dividend flow.
The company has indicated before that it expected dividends to rise as it advances its development programme. For the first quarter of the 2018 year, it’s lifted the dividend by 3.6% to 1.45c/share, and it expects to pay 5.8c for the full year (up from 5.6c), maintaining a 90% payout ratio.
Chief executive Scott Pritchard presented a slide to the annual meeting to show the growth in portfolio occupancy, now 100%, and the weighted average lease term increasing to almost 9 years, then talked of how to improve performance further: “Precinct has always been a city centre specialist and we will continue to invest in high quality, strategically located office real estate. However, both the board & management believe that, to advance our position as a city centre specialist, considering a broader mix of real estate offers greater opportunity for Precinct to create value for shareholders.
“City centres around the world are enjoying a resurgence. We are taking advantage of this growth in a variety of ways. Commercial Bay is a great example, with Precinct developing a premium retail offering in the heart of the cbd. Fundamentally, we are growing in, and with, the cities we are part of.
“We have a clear strategy for creating vibrant environments with a broad retail, leisure and food & beverage offering. Our aim is to create precincts that our clients like working in, and that cbd residents, visitors & whole communities enjoy being in.”
Developing for the future
Perhaps one of the most important features of the strategy is to develop real estate for the future – a quite different view from developing property with an immediate cashflow in mind and extending it as long as you can.
“We currently have $900 million of developments which are underway and have identified a further $600 million development pipeline within our portfolio. This is a significant increase from 5 years ago, when the business had no development capability.
“…. Not only are our earnings growing, but we are also achieving a significant increase in portfolio quality. Achieving a positive result in all 3 measures [earnings, weighted average lease term as a result of development activity and the decline in the average age of the portfolio] is a great outcome and further reinforces the strength of our business.
“Our asset age has nearly halved, from 21 to 11 years. Along with an extended weighted average lease term & full occupancy, we have secured & advanced development in highly strategic locations. We have shifted more weighting to Auckland, which now accounts for 72% of our portfolio.
“Our focus on city centres, particularly Auckland, is very positive. With continued growth supported by key drivers such as net migration & tourism, we believe we are well placed to benefit from the city’s strong growth going forward.”
Commercial Bay at centre of change
Precinct’s biggest central city project is Commercial Bay, under construction between Queen, Customs, Albert & Quay Sts and above the rail tunnels into Britomart.
“Auckland is growing and this looks set to continue. And, like cities all around the world, it is seeing increasing centralisation. This slide illustrates the committed & forecast private & public investment in Auckland city. Most of the works are occurring in close proximity to Commercial Bay.
“A major focus for Precinct continues to be the extensive public regeneration which is set to occur on all streets surrounding Commercial Bay. Auckland is growing fast and billions of dollars are being invested in regional infrastructure such as the city rail link & new bus network. Of course, more recently there has been the commitment by New Zealand’s new government to a light rail system which will support Auckland city’s ongoing economic performance.
“Our research shows Auckland city centre population growth in 2016 was 17% and it is now growing 6 times faster than Auckland as a whole. With over 12,000 people moving to the city centre in the last 3 years, the population is already 15 years ahead of previous predictions of 45,000 people by 2032.”
As for Commercial Bay itself, Mr Pritchard said: “Having launched the project in 2015, we have gained an additional $88 million increase in the project’s value. Lease commitments have also increased to around 50% of the retail space and 66% of the office space. We are attracting leading corporate clients, and we are particularly pleased about the high quality of local & global retail & food brands choosing Commercial Bay. They will give Auckland a whole new retail & dining experience in the heart of the city.
“We are now forecasting a development profit for Commercial Bay of $213 million, reflecting a return on cost of 31%.
“Commercial Bay will include a range of food & beverage, including a communal dining offer designed by the legendary New York-based AvroKO, who are one of the world’s most respected names in hospitality design.
The name for this food offering is Harbour Eats, which is distinctively Kiwi, but AvroKO will bring the international flair. The 700-seat eatery will use plenty of natural greenery & foliage, making most of the open air atrium that will sit right at the waterfront location. This will be a truly world-class dining precinct.”
In the Wynyard Quarter, Precinct has completed stage 1 of its Innovation precinct: “The first stage of Wynyard consists of 2 buildings totalling around 13,000m² of office space. Achieving 100% occupancy upon completion of both buildings is a great result and we are delighted to see the development complete ahead of programme and consistent with budget. Precinct has achieved a development profit of 18%, or $16.2 million, on this project.
“Our involvement in this Innovation precinct shows how we are meeting different client needs in different ways, and our commitment to building strong partnerships. This is achieved through a joint venture with Panuku Development Auckland, an Auckland Council-controlled organisation, and on what is the last site left on Auckland’s waterfront.
“Our buildings here have a particular focus on sustainability & innovation. During the year, we acquired a 50% interest in Generator NZ Ltd, the co-working & shared office space provider. Quality co-working spaces are growing and are substantial businesses in cities around the world. We see the acquisition of a stake in Generator as being consistent with our strategic focus on building client relationships and increasing our service levels.
“This year Generator was also appointed by Ateed (Auckland Tourism, Events & Economic Development) to manage Grid AKL in the Innovation precinct, where it now operates almost 10,000m² of space and is leading an approach to co-working spaces we expect to see grow.”
In Wellington, Precinct’s Bowen Campus project is at the centre of a Government precinct: “As with Wynyard Quarter, we enjoyed both a revaluation uplift at Bowen and 100% leasing pre-commitment following the Crown exercising their right to lease the remaining vacant floors at the campus.
“The Kaikoura earthquake changed the fundamentals of the Wellington market, with many buildings still closed. With limited prime stock available, all research houses are predicting increased occupier demand. However, we too have been impacted following the earthquake, with Deloitte House being closed for a period and remaining largely unoccupied since it reopened in March. Investigations are continuing to be undertaken to try & identify the best solution for the property & its existing clients.”
Mr Pritchard said several more, attractive development opportunities available within its portfolio: “Our property at 1 Queen St is part of the Commercial Bay precinct and enjoys a prime waterfront location offering very good potential for further development as this whole area continues to grow.
“At Wynyard we have the option to develop 3 remaining sites covering 30,000m², and we are already in discussion with occupiers for stage 2, developing another 8000m².
“At Bowen Campus we can build a further 20,000m² of office space suitable for government & corporate occupiers.
“Each of these opportunities provides Precinct with feasible opportunities. We hope to commit to the second stage of Wynyard Quarter within the next year.”
Attribution: Annual meeting, presentation.