Photographer: Craig Warga/Bloomberg

Equity Residential Falls After Third Revenue-Forecast Cut

Updated on
  • Landlord cites weakness in New York, San Francisco markets
  • Apartment owners dealing with more supply, sluggish job growth

Shares of apartment landlord Equity Residential fell the most since March after the company cut its revenue forecast for the third time this year, citing greater weakness than it anticipated in the Manhattan and San Francisco rental markets.

Equity Residential expects revenue growth from properties open at least a year to be 3.5 percent to 4 percent in 2016, according to the company’s second-quarter earnings statement Tuesday. The Chicago-based real estate investment trust in late April lowered the upper limit to 5 percent, then reduced it again in June to 4.5 percent.

“This one is very surprising to us, from what we view to be a top-tier organization with the sophisticated infrastructure that usually communicates future performance within a relatively visible band,” Mizuho Securities USA Inc. analysts Haendel St. Juste and Richard Anderson wrote in a note to investors late Tuesday, after Equity Residential’s announcement.

The analysts cut their recommendation on Equity Residential shares to underperform from neutral. The shares were also downgraded by analysts at BMO Capital Markets Corp. who lowered their rating to market perform from outperform.

Equity Residential slid 6.1 percent to $65.55 at 2:04 p.m. New York time. It was the biggest intraday decline since March 1 and the most in the 15-company Bloomberg apartment REIT index, which fell 3 percent. AvalonBay Communities Inc. and UDR Inc., which both reported earnings this week, were down more than 3 percent.

“We were already surprised by the lack of visibility into the outlook after two reductions in 2016,” St. Juste and Anderson wrote. The third is “too much for the market to handle.”

Working Harder

Equity Residential is among landlords having to work harder to lure tenants in the high-cost markets of Manhattan and San Francisco as an apartment-construction surge gives residents more bargaining power and limits how much owners can raise rates. AvalonBay gave renters lease-signing concessions worth $300,000 in the second quarter, four times more than in the same period a year earlier, Chief Operating Officer Sean Breslin said on the company’s earnings call Tuesday. The sweeteners, in the form of free months of rent, were greatest in New York, Northern California and New England.

Market ‘Reset’

“Markets do reset from time to time, either due to new supply or changes on the demand side of the equation,” Equity Residential Chief Executive Officer David J. Neithercut said Wednesday on a conference call to discuss earnings. “Unfortunately at the present time, we’re experiencing both factors in two of our most important markets.”

San Francisco and New York, which account for half of Equity Residential’s projected revenue growth, are seeing a slowdown in hiring for jobs that pay enough to enable renters to afford the new luxury-apartment supply coming in those cities, Chief Operating Officer David Santee said on the call.

High-salary technology jobs in San Francisco peaked in the first quarter, while in New York, the biggest employment gains this year were in hospitality, leisure and health care, which are “mid-level compensation” industries, he said.

AvalonBay Forecast

AvalonBay cut the midpoint of its full-year forecast for same-store revenue growth by 0.4 percentage points. Job growth in the markets where the company owns apartments was also weaker than it expected in the second quarter, damping demand for rentals in what is usually the busiest leasing period, Breslin said.

“We did not see the same seasonal lift we’ve seen in prior years,” AvalonBay Chief Executive Officer Timothy Naughton said on the company’s call.

In San Francisco, about 5,100 new units, the most in 26 years, are expected to be listed for rent in 2016, data from research firm Reis Inc. show. In Manhattan, 5,675 apartments will be added to the rental inventory, most of it high-end, according to brokerage Citi Habitats.

Many of this year’s new apartment buildings in New York will still be seeking tenants in 2017, and Equity Residential is concerned that competing landlords will start offering more concessions to would-be renters in the final quarter of the year, Santee said.

Equity Residential is projecting that New York will get 14,000 new units in 2017, and another 14,000 the following year, Santee said on the call. About 7,000 units will be added in San Francisco next year, he said.

(Updates with comments from conference call starting in eighth paragraph.)
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