Colony Northstar shares have fallen sharply in recent weeks (-18% YTD). I believe the selling pressure comes from ex-Northstar executives. The existing share buyback plan was largely completed by November and had little remaining capacity to take advantage of the falling price.
- In conjunction with the merger Northstar executives negotiated the following equity grants to replace prior Northstar compensation agreements (CLNS DEF14A page 55):
- Shares awarded were subject to a one-year vesting period following the closing of the merger on 1/10/17
- Al Tylis and Debra Hess left in 2017 and presumably their shares became available for sale immediately.
- Ronald Lieberman appears to still be employed by Colony Northstar so his shares became available for sale on 1/11/18
- As shown in the above excerpt, shares held by Hamamoto and Gilbert would be subject to an additional one year holding period. However it appears that Dan Gilbert and David Hamamoto were terminated effective 1/11/18. This appears to eliminate the one-year post-vesting holding requirement. The filing states that they resigned, but I believe that was simply a graceful way to describe the termination.
- David Hamamoto’s Form 4 filing on 12/18/17 demonstrated his willingness to sell CLNS shares over which he already had full ownership. Following his resignation he is not required to disclose any additional sales.
- CLNS volume rose sharply to 7.3mm shares/day after the vesting of the equity awards on 1/11/18 compared to 2.9mm shares/day in the prior sixty trading days.
Fundamentally, Colony Northstar continues to make progress in execution of its strategic plan:
- Spinoff of complex assets into Colony Northstar Credit Real Estate which will begin trading next week as CLNC (see investor presentation). Peers STWD BXMT and ARI are trading at premiums to book value. CLNC provides clarity into the value of CLNS ownership stake and a platform for future growth in assets under management.
- Revised management agreement with Northstar Realty Europe (NRE) better positions that company for growth in assets under management. CLNS recently raised its stake to 10.2% through open market purchases at prices up to $14.60/share
- Execution of $300mm share repurchase plan announced last February. $264mm was acquired through 11/9/17 at an average price of $12.94. The company may not have had enough remaining authorization to buy a significant amount of stock during the recent drop, but liquidity from 2017 asset sales could enable a larger buyback plan to be announced with 4Q earnings next month.
- Expansion into digital infrastructure assets through a $3Bn partnership with DIgital Bridge.
A falling share price draws attention to the company’s weaknesses:
- Successful transition to a co-investment business strategy will take several years.
- Near-term earnings have been relatively weak and dependent on capital gains. Adjustments still play a large role in the company’s calculation of “Core FFO”.
- The company does not normally provide financial guidance. Guidance would help investors measure the success of the business transition.
On the date of publication the author was a shareholder of CLNS and NRE. Investors are encouraged to check all of the key facts cited here prior to making their own investment decisions. The author believes that a substantial amount of CLNS shares became available for sale on 1/11/18 by former Northstar executives, but did not consult independent lawyers or accountants about interpretation of those equity compensation agreements.