The Real Reasons Behind The Amazon Prime Monthly Price Boost

source: nyfa edu

It’s no secret that the e-commerce business of Amazon (AMZN) is driven by its Amazon Price subscribers, who spend about double the amount on products served up by Amazon than non-subscribers do.

So when it announced it has boosted its monthly subscriber price from $10.99 to $12.99 for Prime members, and from $5.49 to $6.49 for students, it definitely warrants a look as to what is probably behind the move, which goes into effect on the first payment after February 18.

The new annual costs from the monthly increase will climb from $131.88 a year to $155.88 a year.

It’s important to know that in both increases, the annual fee of $99 for regular customers, and $49 for students, remain the same. This at least partially plays into the reasoning behind the decision.

Also of note, the standalone service fee for its Prime Video membership remains the same at $8.99.

In this article we’ll look at what Amazon is trying to get out of the increase in monthly Prime subscription prices.

Prime growth

While Amazon has never released specific numbers concerning the number of customers subscribing to Prime, the general consensus is that in the U.S. there are about 90 million households subscribing. Again, those subscribers spend about twice as much as customers that don’t subscribe.

Growth for the service has continued to accelerate. In January 2018, the company said “more new paid members joined Prime worldwide this year than any previous year.”

As for the pricing, an Amazon spokeswoman said it was increased because of the “tremendous appetite” Prime subscribers have for the benefits offered in the service, adding, the company is “indifferent” to what payment option customers choose.

I’m going to challenge that assertion a little later in the article. First, let’s look at the variables associated with potential churn.

Thoughts on churn

Some concerns have been raised, and have been for some time, regarding how customers would respond once Amazon inevitably raised its Prime subscription price as the costs of delivering desired services increased.

It has to be kept in mind that Amazon’s performance is driven by Prime subscribers, so when it raised its monthly price, it had to know there was little risk to that customer base in regard to churn.

The first and probably most important thing to consider about the monthly price increase is, if customers were to cancel their subscriptions over $2 a month, or $24 a year, they aren’t the type of customer Amazon is trying to reach with the service in the first place. If they aren’t spending on average like other Prime subscribers do, they are costing the company money to retain them.

So while it’s probable there will be some churn as a result of the increase in subscription price on a monthly basis, it’ll almost certainly be customers that aren’t generating much in the way of e-commerce sales for the company. If its inner data didn’t confirm that, it never would have made the move in the first place.

What’s most interesting about the price move to me is the widening gap between the monthly costs and annual costs, which are now over 50 percent more. I think that’s the key to understanding what’s behind the decision.

I see Amazon trying to change subscribers’ behavior by making it much more desirable to choose an annual subscription against a monthly subscription. Why that’s the case is that it provides more visibility, continuity, and predictability to the performance of the company over time.

The reason why is that the company without a doubt has good customers that pay on a monthly basis. The problem is that with such a large customer base, numerous things can happen that can prompt a quality individual customer to stop their subscription. It could be a loss of a job, divorce, medical bills, or any other unplanned event that causes customers to rethink their financial priorities.

Getting them on an annual payment plan removes much of that risk. That’s because there is no reason to cancel a subscription if it isn’t due for some time. It provides a window of opportunity for the problem to be solved or adjusted to, which removes the level of churn of the types of customers Amazon wants to retain.

Finally, for those that decide to remain on a monthly pay plan, they will probably be good customers that will now provide a larger passive revenue stream with the company doing little to generate the increase in sales.

Most of the churn will come from customers that aren’t contributing much if anything to its bottom line.

Why how people subscribe matter

Now back to the assertion made by the Amazon spokeswoman. The reason I don’t think it’s an accurate statement is because it does in fact matter how people subscribe, and with the widening costs between monthly and annual costs, it is obvious to me the company is trying to push people to buy annually.

If I’m accurate in that assessment, it means the reason for the price increase isn’t to support the added services and their costs, but to get more people to grab a yearly subscription.

Why won’t Amazon come right out and say that? That’s easy. It would be a public relations nightmare for the company to declare some of its Prime subscribers aren’t carrying their weight because they don’t buy many products from the company to offset the costs of delivering premium services.

Conclusion

The costs of delivering premium services to Amazon Prime members are rising. Since Amazon chose to boost costs by targeting the monthly subscription, it suggests it is attempting to push monthly subscribers to its annual subscription plan.

Why it is doing that is in order to produce more predictable results, and in fact, lower churn. The annual service experiences little churn; the churn comes primarily from its monthly service.

So the combination of low-spend customers and an increase in annual revenue and earnings visibility are the primary catalysts behind this increase in monthly prices, in my view.

When considering Amazon will likely lose some fee revenue from this move, it’s obvious to me the company does care about how customers pay. What isn’t being said is that those that drop the plan altogether will no longer be Amazon customers.

What will be left is a better mix of monthly and annual customers, with the monthly customers being those that still spend significantly on its e-commerce platform.

From that point of view, Amazon will get an increase in monthly fees while keeping its best customers on board. That should more than offset the churn coming from the loss of lower-spending customers that are a drag on the service.

Disclosure: I/we have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.

I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.

Icahn, Deason to jointly push Xerox to explore selling itself, other options: WSJ

(Reuters) – Investor Carl Icahn and Darwin Deason, the biggest- and third-largest shareholders of Xerox Corp, jointly plan to push the printer and photocopier maker to explore options, including a sale of the firm, the Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday.

Icahn and Deason, who together own 15.7 percent of the photocopier pioneer, have earlier separately called on the company to break off or renegotiate a joint venture with Fujifilm Holdings Corp, saying it was unfavorable to Xerox. Icahn has also called for Xerox CEO Jeff Jacobson to be replaced.

The two shareholders have now formed an alliance and plan to ask Xerox to explore options, including selling itself, breaking off its long-running joint venture with Fujifilm, and immediately firing Jacobson, the Journal reported, citing people familiar with the matter. on.wsj.com/2EYCRHd

The Journal had previously reported that Fujifilm and Xerox were discussing deals, including a change of control of Xerox, though not a full sale.

FILE PHOTO: The logo of Xerox company is seen on a building in Minsk, Belarus, March 21, 2016. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko/File Photo

In a statement, Xerox said: “The Xerox Board of Directors and management are confident with the strategic direction in which the Company is heading and we will continue to take action to achieve our common goal of creating value for all Xerox shareholders.”

Deason has been asking the company to make public the terms of its deal with Fujifilm, which he called “one-sided”. Xerox has described Deason’s criticism as “false and misleading”.

The five-decade-old joint venture, 75 percent owned by Fujifilm and 25 percent by Xerox, is a pillar of Fujifilm’s business, accounting for nearly half the group’s overall operating profit. It has limited prospects for future growth, however, because of declining demand for office printing.

The reported operating profit of the joint venture, called Fuji Xerox, was about $750 million on sales of $10 billion in the year ended last March.

Fujifilm declined to comment on the Journal report.

Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru; Additional reporting by Makiko Yamazaki in TOKYO; Editing by Peter Cooney and Muralikumar Anantharaman

Google CEO Has No Regrets About Firing Author of Anti-Diversity Memo

Google CEO Sundar Pichai on Friday expressed no regret over the firing of James Damore, author of an infamous memo criticizing Google’s pro-diversity policies and culture.

During an appearance with YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki, Pichai said, “I don’t regret it,” when asked about Damore’s firing by Recode head Kara Swisher. He insisted that the firing was primarily a strategic decision for Google. “The last thing we do when we make decisions like this is look at it with a political lens,” Pichai said, according to TechCrunch.

Google has been working to increase its hiring of women. Damore’s memo, which became public in August, argued in part that women might not be biologically suited for careers in engineering or technology. Many commentators felt that retaining Damore after the memo’s distribution would make Google a hostile work environment for women.

Wojcicki also described the firing as “the right decision.”

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Though Google’s priority was internal cohesion, Damore’s memo was broadly criticized by many in the tech sector and beyond, including for faulty interpretations of biological science. Damore quickly revised inaccurate representations that he had completed a Harvard PhD in biology.

At the same time, reports did indicate that Damore’s views were quietly widespread in the lower ranks of Google.

Damore earlier this month initiated a lawsuit against Google, alleging that the company discriminates against white men. That case seems difficult to make on its face, since its most recent diversity report found that the company is 69% male and 91% white or Asian, with black or Hispanic people making up only 3% and 4% of new hires, respectively.

Twitter to notify users exposed to Russian propaganda during U.S. elections

(Reuters) – Twitter Inc, which is reviewing Russian interference during the 2016 U.S. elections, said on Friday it would notify some of its users whether they were exposed to content generated by a suspected Russian propaganda service.

The company said it would be emailing notifications to 677,775 people in the United States who followed, retweeted or liked content from accounts associated with the Internet Research Agency (IRA) during the election.

The IRA is a Russian organization that according to lawmakers and researchers, employs hundreds of people to push pro-Kremlin content under phony social media accounts.

Twitter added that because it has already suspended these accounts, the relevant content is no longer publicly available on its platform.

Twitter executives on Wednesday told U.S. lawmakers that it may notify the users on the Russian propaganda.

The company in September said it had suspended about 200 Russian-linked accounts, and followed it by suspending adverts from media outlets Russia Today and Sputnik in October.

Reporting by Pushkala Aripaka in Bengaluru; Editing by Maju Samuel

Apple, Alphabet employee buses damaged by vandals during commute

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Vandals damaged Apple Inc and Alphabet Inc charter buses carrying employees to and from work in California’s Silicon Valley in recent days, police said on Thursday.

The cracked windows did not injure anyone but Apple shifted shuttles to a longer route as a precaution. The large coach buses are a common sight on San Francisco Bay Area freeways but have also become a symbol of the tech industry’s role in soaring housing costs and traffic congestion.

An Apple bus was hit by an unknown object last Friday, and four more of the companies’ shuttles and a shuttle for Google parent company Alphabet were hit Tuesday, according to California Highway Patrol.

Police do not know what caused the damage but have ruled out road debris such as rocks, agency spokesman Art Montiel said.

The union representing shuttle drivers who drove two of the Apple buses struck Tuesday, Teamsters Local 853, described the incidents as a “pellet gun attack” in a statement.

Doug Bloch, a representative for the Teamsters unit, said that only the outer layer of the buses’ double-paned windows cracked, suggesting that the projectiles lacked the force of bullets.

“It’s hard to know how to defend against this,” Bloch said. “It’s scary.”

Police have increased monitoring near the town of Woodside on Interstate 280, a major artery for traveling between San Francisco, where many tech industry workers live, and the corporate campuses of Silicon Valley.

Apple told employees in an email Tuesday night seen by Reuters that buses would take a new route that would add as much as 30 minutes to 45 minutes to the commute in each direction. The one-way trip is normally about an hour. It is unclear whether the rerouting remained in effect Thursday.

Alphabet did not respond to a request for comment. Facebook Inc said on Thursday that its shuttles had not been attacked and were running with no changes in service.

Demonstrators in 2013 and 2014 blocked and damaged buses to protest the booming tech industry’s impact on affordable housing and the gentrification of San Francisco.

The buses typically do not bear names of companies, but acronyms for destinations that appear on the vehicle’s digital banners can indicate to which tech campus they travel.

Reporting by Paresh Dave; Additional reporting by David Ingram and Stephen Nellis; Editing by Lisa Shumaker

Apple to pay $38 billion in repatriation tax

(Reuters) – Apple Inc (AAPL.O) will make about $38 billion in tax payments to bring funds kept overseas back to the United States under new federal tax laws, the company said on Wednesday.

Apple said it expected to invest over $30 billion in the United States over the next 5 years, and would create 20,000 jobs through hiring at existing campuses and through opening a new campus.

Reporting by Sonam Rai in Bengaluru; editing by Patrick Graham

Science Says These Factors Determine Good Leadership

For a company to evolve and grow, entrepreneurs must develop into good leaders.

But what are the factors that determine good leadership? Do good leaders share common traits? Are there secrets to becoming a great leader?  What is the impact of gender in regards to leadership? 

The development of sound leaders is a complicated process that is both dependent on the individual, his or her team, and the industry in which they work. But working to become a good leader is essential, especially in today’s business environment, where studies have shown that over 80% of people don’t trust their boss. Eventually, employees leave jobs where they don’t respect their boss. Good leadership is imperative to employee retention and creating long-term organizational success.

There are a variety of skills that provide a solid foundation for good leadership. However, science says that some people are pre-disposed to be better leaders than others.

Inherent traits play a role in leadership potential.

Scientific studies reveal that good leaders are ambitious, curious, and sociable. By having these characteristics you have a better chance to grow within your discipline or company and become a leader. Another critical aspect of leadership is integrity. By having integrity, you can build trusting, supportive teams, with positive work cultures where people feel valued and supported. While a high IQ does have an impact on leadership potential, the correlation is extremely small, less than 5%, when compared to these broader positive traits.   

Are some people born leaders?

Personality traits and intelligence levels are impacted by genetics, which means some people are born with stronger pre-disposition to take on roles in leadership. In fact, estimates suggest that 30-60% of leadership is heritable. However, if you don’t naturally have the traits listed above – sociability, curiosity, ambition, and integrity – it doesn’t mean you won’t become a leader. Through training and coaching, it’s possible to develop the competencies necessary to stand at the helm of a project or company.

Does gender play a role in leadership?

From a leadership potential perspective, gender has little impact. In fact, data has shown that women can be extremely successful as leaders. Over an eight-year study of publicly traded companies, it was discovered that organizations with female CEO’s or female Director’s of Boards produced a better annual return when compared to male counterparts. We don’t have fewer women leaders because of a lack of female leadership potential or a propensity for business. In truth, the number of leaders is currently skewed in favor of males because of social factors such as gender biases, lack of fairness in hiring opportunities, and a history of male dominance in business.

Being in a position of leadership may not feel comfortable for everyone, and that’s okay. As individuals, we engage with the world in different ways, and we have innate strengths that should be utilized to our advantage. Specific traits may lead to a higher propensity toward taking on leadership roles, while other factors such as gender play a much smaller role.

But let me be clear. If you want to become a leader, don’t let scientific studies, your family, or any article convince you that goal is unattainable. You can learn, grow, and evolve, becoming the leader you want to be.

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Lesson Learned: Don't Short A Blue Chip REIT

There seems to be more articles on Seeking Alpha in which authors recommend shorting Blue Chip REITs. A few days ago there was a short thesis on Tanger Factory Outlet (SKT) and the author explained,

“I have a hard time convincing myself that the good results will continue into the future. I personally am not comfortable with the sales per square foot metrics at these properties… the current stellar portfolio performance may possibly suddenly see itself deteriorate in the next 5 years without warning.”

I have already provided my counter to that article (HERE), and most of my followers know that I’m not a market timer who picks tops or bottoms.

Instead, I am a value investor and I have found that it’s simply better to be in the market invested in stocks that offer the highest potential returns than play the timing game.

Many of you know that I’m generally a buy-and-hold investor and that means that I like to invest in REITs that I can own for the long haul. It’s rare that I bet against securities that will fall in price… that’s like gambling that my plants will die. I prefer to plant my seeds firmly in the ground and wait for my crops to grow.

Occasionally, I run across a few plants (stocks) that seem to be deteriorating and, as a result, I seek to avoid the companies all together. I’m not a proponent of shorting REITs, that’s just RISKY!

Photo Credit

Why Short a REIT?

I find it amazing that some of the wealthiest REIT investors – the hedge funds – claim to have a vast knowledge and understanding as to the nature of their complex strategies, yet the funds’ overall performance often turns into Fool’s Gold.

We all know that hedge funds by nature are opportunistic as they are designed to pool people’s money to invest in a diverse range of assets. Because hedge funds are lightly regulated (and are not sold to retail investors), they typically buy riskier positions and they often employ the use of short selling and leverage.

Although it is difficult to evaluate hedge fund performance compared with other investments (because the risk/return characteristics are unique), I remain baffled as to why so many hedge fund managers cross into my sweet spot – REITs – trying to short a particular stock that is anything but distressed or even showing signs of weakness.

You can see why the $12 billion hedge fund Pershing Square took advantage of the falling value in General Growth Properties (NYSE:GGP) back in 2009. That was a wise bet for William Ackman (who runs Pershing Square) who has a history of investing in distressed real estate. But history has also shown that there is little opportunity for the short sellers who pursue high-quality blue chips.

For example, in 2009, Ackman waged a battle against Realty Income (O) on the thesis that the “monthly dividend company” had poor credit quality. Ackman argued that Realty Income was suffering from mispriced risk since the REIT was paying a dividend of around 7.5% while the private market cap rate values were closer to 10.5% – a 40% premium. Ackman was suggesting that Realty Income’s fundamentals could not support the dividend and that a cut was imminent. Boy was he wrong!

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Think about it like this, the outcome of a short sale is basically the opposite of a regular buy transaction, but the mechanics behind the short sale result in extremely volatile risks.

In fact, it’s somewhat like the law of gravity as the law of investing is inflation (instead of gravity) and that means that betting against the upward momentum is inherently risky. That means that when you bet against the momentum and you keep a short position for a long period of time, your odds get worse.

Also, when you short sell, you don’t enjoy the same infinite returns you get as a long buyer would. A short sale loses when the stock price rises and a stock is (theoretically, at least) not limited in how high it can go.

In other words, you can lose more than you initially invest, but the best you can earn is a 100% gain if a company goes out of business and the stock loses its entire value.

Finally, and the most concerning risk is leverage or margin trading. When short selling, you open a margin account, which allows you to borrow money from the brokerage firm using your investment as security. Just as when you go long on margin, it’s easy for losses to get out of hand because you must meet the minimum maintenance requirement of 25%. If your account slips below this, you’ll be subject to a margin call, and you’ll be forced to put in more cash or liquidate your position.

For all of these reasons, I’m not willing to risk hard earning capital to short a REIT. Plain and simple, it’s just way too risky and I believe that by patiently taking advantage of the margin of safety, my portfolio will hold more winners than losers.

Regardless of my risk tolerance level, the short sellers haven’t stopped betting against REITs and when that feeding frenzy becomes a catalyst, the “squeeze” ensues (as more and more of the short investors buy shares to cover their positions, share prices skyrocket).

This Blue Chip Bet Paid Off Handsomely

In May 2013, Highfields Capital decided to short shares of Digital Realty (DLR) based on the premise that shares were too expensive and should be trading for around $20.00 per share. Jonathon Jacobson stated (at the 18th Ira Sohn Investment Conference last week) that “pricing is going lower, competition is increasing, and the company (Digital) is tapping into capital markets as aggressively as they can.”

At the time, Digital was trading at $65.50 per share with a total capitalization of around $14 billion.

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Highfields claimed at the time that Digital’s fundamentals were deteriorating and that the REIT was a commodity business with no barriers-to-entry. Simply put, Highfields was speculating that the stock would fall, without any true catalyst supporting the short, other than manipulating prices for personal gain.

Simply said, Highfields is shorting Digital because they think they know something others don’t know. They are plain and simple: speculators, obsessed with dangerously manipulating prices and driving down prices for their own personal gain. In an article, I offered my “back up the truck” commentary,

“ …it’s time to jump on this cloud. Digital has a most attractive valuation of 13.6x and I consider the fundamentals sound. Driven by growing world-wide demand and a very high-quality tenant base, Digital has evolved into a best-in-class global data center platform. Digital’s “first mover advantage” has allowed the REIT to build a commanding barrier-to-entry model in which its mere scale provides access to capital and strong expertise in the global cloud supply chain.”

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Over the years, I have continued accumulating shares in Digital Realty as this Blue Chip has been one of the best picks in my Durable Income Portfolio. As evidenced below, Digital has returned an average of 16% annually since I began purchasing shares in May 2013.

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The “D” in DAVOS

Last week I provided a summary of my All-American DAVOS portfolio that consists of Digital Realty, American Tower (AMT), Ventas, Inc. (VTR), Realty Income, and Simon Property (SPG). These 5 REITs returned 9.2% since December 31, 2016, and Digital returned over 23%.

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In Q2-17, Digital announced that it was merging with DuPont Fabros in a transaction consistent with Digital’s strategy of offering a comprehensive set of data center solution from single-cabinet colocation and interconnection, all the way up to multi-megawatt deployments.

At the far end of the spectrum, this combination expands Digital’s hyperscale product offering and enhances the company’s ability to meet the rapidly growing needs of the leading cloud service providers. The DFT merger is also consistent with Digital’s stated investment criteria and mission statement:

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The DuPont transaction expanded Digital’s presence in strategic U.S. data center metros and the two portfolios are highly complementary. The transaction was expected to be roughly 2% accretive to core FFO per share of 2018 and roughly 4% accretive to 2018 AFFO per share. The combination also enhanced the overall strength of the balance sheet. DuPont Fabros portfolio consists of high-quality purpose-built data centers, as you can see below:

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The merger also bolstered Digital’s presence and expanding footprint in its product offering in three top tier metro areas, while DuPont realized significant benefits of diversification from the combination with Digital’s existing footprint in 145 properties across 33 global metropolitan areas.

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Digital closed on the acquisition of DuPont during the third quarter and the integration is well underway… but the blue chip REIT is not slowing down…

In October, Digital announced a 50/50 joint venture with Mitsubishi Corporation to enhance its ability to provide data center solutions in Japan. Digital is contributing a recently completed project in Osaka and Mitsubishi is contributing two existing data centers in Tokyo. Although the venture is non-exclusive, the expectation is that this will be both partners primary data center investment vehicle in Japan.

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According to Digital’s CEO, Bill Stein, “Japan is a highly strategic market (with) tremendous opportunity for growth over the next several years. This joint venture establishes Digital’s presence in Tokyo, which has been a longtime target market.”

In addition, Digital expects this joint venture will significantly enhance the company’s ability to serve its customers data center needs in Japan. In particular, Digital expects that Mitsubishi’s global brand recognition and local enterprise expertise will meaningfully improve the ability to penetrate local demand.

Also, in the US, Digital entered into an agreement to acquire a data center in Chicago from a private REIT for $315 million. This value add-play offers a healthy going in yield along with shell capacity that gives Digital an opportunity to boost the unleveraged return into the high single digits. This investment represents an expansion in Digital’s core market and is occupied by existing customers with whom Digital has been independently working to meet their expansion requirements.

Also, during the third quarter, Digital announced that it was breaking ground on a new 14 megawatt data center in Sydney, Australia, adjacent to an existing facility. Digital also expanded its Silicon Valley Connected Campus with a 6 megawatt facility at 3205 Alfred Street in Santa Clara, California (scheduled for delivery in the first quarter of 2018).

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The Improved Balance Sheet

In order to continue to scale its global footprint, Digital continues to demonstrate a disciplined balance sheet.

In July 2017, Digital issued two tranches of Sterling denominated bonds with a weighted average maturity of 10 years, and a blended coupon of just over 3% raising gross proceeds of approximately $780 million.

In early August, the company pre-funded a portion of the DuPont acquisition with the issuance of $1.35 billion of U.S. dollar bonds with a weighted average maturity of nine years, and a blended coupon of 3.45%. (This was only the sixth time an investment grade U.S. listed REIT has issued a $1 billion or more in a single tranche of bonds).

The transaction was well oversubscribed and priced 10 bps inside of where Digital’s existing bonds were trading on the secondary market prior to the transaction. Digital also raised $200 million of perpetual preferred equity at 5.25%, an all-time low coupon for Digital and the lowest rate ever achieved on a REIT preferred offering with a crossover rating.

In mid-September, Digital closed on the DuPont acquisition and exchanged all the outstanding DFT common shares and units for approximately 43 million shares of DLR common stock and 6 million OP units. Also, in conjunction with the DuPont acquisition, Digital exchanged the DFT 6.625% Series C Preferred for a new Digital Realty Series C Preferred with a liquidation value of $201 million.

The company also tendered for the DFT 5.875% high-yield notes due 2021, settled nearly 80% of the $600 million outstanding at closing in mid-September and redeemed the remainder within a few days post closing. After quarter-end, Digital redeemed all $250 million of the DFT 5.625% high-yield notes due 2023 and a blended 106.3% of par or a total cost of $270.5 million, including accrued interest and the make-whole premium.

When the dust settled at the end of Q3-17, Digital’s debt-to-EBITDA stood at 6x and fixed charge coverage was just under 4x, as you can see below:

After adjusting for a full-quarter contribution, the balance sheet actually improves as a result of the DuPont acquisition and debt-to-EBITDA dips down below 5x and fixed charge coverage remains above 4x, as you can see on the right-hand side of the chart.

As you can see from the left side (chart below), Digital has a clear runway with nominal debt maturities before 2020. The balance sheet remains well-positioned for growth consistent with our long-term financing strategy.

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The Fundamentals

Construction activity remains elevated across the primary data center metros, but leasing velocity remains robust and industry participants are mostly adhering to a just in time inventory management approach, helping to keep new supply largely in check.

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Demand is outpacing supply in most major markets. The near-term funnel remains healthy and demand seems to be picking up as we head into the end of the year.

In addition, vacancy rates remain tight across the board prompting Digital to bring on measured amounts of capacity to meet demand in select metro areas like Sydney, Silicon Valley and Chicago. The company has seen a flurry of recent land deals in core markets and the number of new competitors is on the rise, although Digital believes its global platform, scale and operational track record represent key competitive advantages.

As Digital’s CEO, Bill Stein, explains:

“Given the sector’s recent history, any prospect of an uptick in speculative new supply bears watching. However, we remain encouraged by the depth and breadth of demand for our scale, co-location and interconnection solutions. We expect the demand will continue to outstrip supply, while barriers to entry are beginning to grow in select metros, which we believe bodes well for long-term rent growth, as well as the enduring value of infill portfolios such as ours.”

Stein adds:

“…we are well-positioned to connect workloads to data on our global connected campus network and through our Service Exchange offering. Enterprise architectures are going through a transformation and workloads are transitioning from on-premise to a hybrid multi-cloud environment. Our comprehensive product offering is critical to capturing this shift.

Cloud demand continues to grow at a rapid clip, but future growth in the data center sector will come from artificial intelligence. The power, cooling and interconnection requirements for AI applications are drastically different than traditional workloads, and Digital Realty is well-positioned to support the unique requirements and tremendous growth potential of this next-generation technology suite.”

The Latest Results

Digital signed total bookings for the third quarter of $58 million, including an $8 million contribution from interconnection. The company signed new leases for space and power, totaling $50 million during the third quarter, including a $6 million co-location contribution. The weighted average lease term on space and power leases signed during the third quarter was nine years. Digital’s management team explains,

“Our third quarter wins showcase the strengths of our combined organization as the bulk of our activity was concentrated on our collective campuses in Ashburn, which is not only the largest and fastest growing data center market in the world, but also the combined company’s largest metro area in terms of existing capacity and ability to support our customers growth.”

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In Q3-17, Digital’s current backlog of leases signed but not yet commenced stands at $106 million. The step up from $64 million last quarter reflects the $50 million of space and power leases signed, along with the $59 million backlog inherited from the DuPont acquisition offset by $67 million of commencements. The weighted average lag between third-quarter signings and commencements improved to four months.

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Digital retained 86% of third-quarter lease expirations, and signed $66 million of renewals during the third quarter, in addition to new leases signed. The weighted average lease term on renewals was over six years, and cash rents on renewal leases rolled down 3.8%, primarily due to two sizable above market leases that were renewed during the third quarter, one on the East Coast and one in Phoenix. Digital expects cash re-leasing spreads will be positive for the fourth quarter, as well as for the full year 2017.

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As you can see from the bridge chart below, Digital’s primary driver is a full quarter with the higher share count outstanding following the close of the DFT acquisition late in the third quarter. Digital still expects to realize approximately $18 million of annualized overhead synergies and expects the transaction will be roughly 2% accretive to core FFO per share in 2018 and roughly 4% accretive to 2018 AFFO per share.

However, these synergies will not fully be realized until 2018 and the quarterly run rate is expected to spring load in the fourth quarter before bouncing back in 2018.

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As you can see below, Digital’s non-cash straight-line rental revenue has come down from a run rate of $23 million in the fourth quarter of 2013, all the way down to less than $2 million in the third quarter.

Over that same time, quarterly revenue has grown by 60% from $380 million to more than $600 million. This trend reflects several years of consistent improvement in data center market fundamentals, as well as the impact of tighter underwriting discipline, which has driven steady growth in cash flows and sustained improvement in the quality of earnings.

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Buy This Blue Chip?

First off, I am not selling this BLUE CHIP REIT. I am confident with my overweight exposure and I will continue to add more shares in price weakness. Let’s take a look at the dividend yield, compared with the peers below:

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Let’s take a closer look at Digital’s dividend history, and specifically the FFO Payout history…

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As you can see, Digital has continued to widen the margin of safety related to the Payout Ratio (helps me SWAN)…

Now, let’s examine the P/FFO multiple, compared to the peers:

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As you can see, Digital is cheaper (based on P/FFO) than the peers. Let’s examine the FFO/share growth chart below…

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As you can see, Digital is not growing as robustly as the peers; however, the company has continued to generate ~8% FFO/share growth and this powerful pattern of predictability is the primary reason I own shares in this REIT. Take a look at this FFO per share history…

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The average FFO/share growth since 2014 has been around 7.6%… now take a look at the P/AFFO/share chart below…

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This suggests that Digital is easily positioned to continue to grow its dividend by at least 5% annually, possibly a tad better in 2018.

In summary, Digital has been one of my best BLUE CHIP buys since I commenced the Durable Income Portfolio (in 2013). I consider the shares soundly valued today (nibbling); however, I would recommend buying closer to $100/share. As Ben Graham famously explained, “a stock does not become a sound investment merely because it can be bought at close to its asset value.”

Selecting securities with a significant margin of safety remains that value investor’s definitive precautionary measure. I consider Tanger Factory Outlet to be the best BLUE CHIP buy today, as any value investor knows – “it pays to wait patiently for the storm to subside, knowing that a sunnier and more plentiful time is bound, as a law of nature, to resume in due course.”

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Note: Brad Thomas is a Wall Street writer, and that means he is not always right with his predictions or recommendations. That also applies to his grammar. Please excuse any typos, and be assured that he will do his best to correct any errors if they are overlooked.

Finally, this article is free, and the sole purpose for writing it is to assist with research, while also providing a forum for second-level thinking. If you have not followed him, please take five seconds and click his name above (top of the page).

Other REITs mentioned: (COR), (QTS), (CONE), and (EQIX).

Sources: FAST Graphs and DLR Investor Presentation.

Disclosure: I am/we are long APTS, ARI, BRX, BXMT, CCI, CHCT, CIO, CLDT, CONE, CORR, CUBE, DDR, DEA, DLR, DOC, EPR, EXR, FPI, FRT, GEO, GMRE, GPT, HASI, HTA, IRET, IRM, JCAP, KIM, LADR, LAND, LMRK, LTC, MNR, NXRT, O, OFC, OHI, OUT, PEB, PEI, PK, QTS, REG, RHP, ROIC, SKT, SPG, STAG, STOR, STWD, TCO, UBA, UMH, UNIT, VER, VTR, WPC.

I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.

Mark Zuckerberg Has Lost This Much Money for Changing Facebook’s Feed

Facebook stock took a hit after the social network announced massive changes to its news feed. And no one felt that hit more than Mark Zuckerberg.

The founder and CEO of Facebook owns over 400 million shares of the company, meaning stock fluctuations hit him the hardest. The trick is figuring out exactly how hard — and that’s where things get a little difficult.

As of April 14, 2017, the company’s last proxy statement, Zuckerberg owned over 2.6 million shares of Class A stock and nearly 411 million Class B shares. In September, though, he announced plans to sell as many as 75 million shares over the following 18 months “to fund the philanthropic initiatives of [he] and his wife, Priscilla Chan,” according to a filing.

So, for argument’s sake, let’s say he’s halfway through that sales goal (unlikely, but it doesn’t hurt to be conservative) — bringing his total holdings to approximately 377 million shares.

Given the company’s 4.5% drop on Friday, that would mean Zuckerberg lost more than $3.1 billion, on paper at least. (If he hasn’t sold any of the 75 million shares he’s planning to, the loss escalates to nearly $3.5 billion.)

Of course, Facebook shares will almost certainly rebound. And analysts say they expect the changes will drive higher ad prices and could result in more money for Facebook, something that always cheers investors.

Ultimately, though, Zuckerberg’s likely not concerned. He’s already pledged to give away 99% of his net worth in his lifetime.

McDonald's Just Learned It Has a Shocking New Competitor (How Will It React?)

Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

The Burger Wars seem to have been going on longer than any war England and France managed to wage.

As soon as one burger chain creates a new product or a special offer, all its competitors follow suit.

Have you noticed, for example, how many of them are suddenly offering their own versions of McDonald’s new Dollar Menu?

Talking of McDonald’s, one of the major elements of its push toward continued survival — I’m sorry, I mean stellar growth — is delivery. 

The chain said last year that it’s “just beginning to scratch the surface on this opportunity.”

Now, though, a new competitor is rising to challenge it. And it really isn’t one you might expect.

It’s Hooters.

Yes, the so-called breastaurant believes that delivery offers the finest possible way to get over the the issues some people have with respect to its physical — some would say, very physical — restaurants.

Indeed, as Hooters CEO Terry Marks told the New York Post: “Many people wouldn’t step foot in our restaurants.”

Now why might that be?

He added, though, that Hooters’ food has many secret admirers. 

I confess to having been unaware of this.

I’d rather thought it peddled burgers and wings that were largely indistinguishable from quite a few other places in the casual restaurant sphere, one that has come under increased pressure. 

(Apparently, millennials are to blame for this struggle.) 

So what would you prefer after a disturbing Monday at work? Would you rather a Big Mac and large fries were delivered to your house?

Or does the idea of a little pick-me-up from Hooters appeal somewhat more?

I should add that this is an entirely wholesome Burger War. Hooters seems to have no plans for fetchingly attired women to bring their wings to your abode.

It seems, though, that Hooters’ recently introduced smoked wings have been something of a success, so perhaps the chain will make it some sort of coveted signature dish.

On the other hand, McDonald’s is experimenting with radical concepts such as fresh meat.

It’s even bringing back some old favorites, redesigned for modern times

You’ll tell me that Hooters isn’t really a direct competitor of McDonald’s. The pricing is surely different.

But when it comes to the increasingly laziness of America, you never know what they’ll suddenly pay for and why.

Some brands are simply better than others at creating emotional connections.

McDonald’s offers one sort of emotional connection. 

Hooters offers quite another.

Real Advice for Real Money