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Analysts mull healthcare REIT prospects amid COVID-19; Hyatt to ax 1,300 jobs

S&P Global Market Intelligence offers our top picks of real estate news stories and more published throughout the week.

Analysts parsed the potential for healthcare real estate investment trusts to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic in the week after the sector's largest companies reported first-quarter earnings.

Fitch Ratings lowered its outlook on Welltower Inc. in a May 13 report, based on expectations that REITs' seniors housing operating portfolios could see occupancy declines in the range of 200 to 400 basis points — potentially higher than the rating agency's original expectations. Fitch already had negative ratings outlooks on Ventas Inc. and Sabra Health Care REIT Inc., two other REITs with large seniors housing portfolios.

The agency noted that skilled nursing facilities, a different property type from seniors housing, have so far experienced more cash-flow stability during the pandemic, and separately, Mizuho Securities USA analyst Omotayo Okusanya predicted that Congress could act in its next economic aid package to support the sector.

Okusanya reiterated "buy" ratings on Sabra and another major skilled-nursing owner, Omega Healthcare Investors Inc., arguing that while rents will come under pressure, government aid should help the REITs' operator tenants remain solvent.

SMBC Nikko analyst Richard Anderson, meanwhile, downgraded his rating of Welltower's equity to "neutral," while upgrading shares of Healthpeak Properties Inc. to "outperform" and LTC Properties Inc. to "neutral" from "underperform."

READ MORE: Sign up for our weekly coronavirus newsletter here, and read our latest coverage on the crisis here.

The ratings changes hinge on a view that the best way to manage the healthcare real estate environment is to own life science, medical and skilled nursing properties, in that order, Anderson wrote. Still, he added, "while our ratings are a reflection of the sign of the times today, with a sensation of bottomless occupancy loss for some asset types, we do think the moment an effective therapy or vaccine is developed, the sector overall could rip back up in dramatic fashion."

The COVID-19 effect tracker

* Hyatt Hotels Corp. will lay off 1,300 employees globally, starting June 1, in a bid to cope with the coronavirus crisis. The hospitality giant said it will provide severance, outplacement services and other benefits to the staff impacted by the layoffs. Hyatt also detailed reductions of companywide expenditures and extended salary reductions for its senior leadership team and board of directors, among other measures.

* Colony Capital Inc. suspended its common dividend for the second quarter to conserve approximately $175 million in cash, if the suspension remains in effect for the balance of the year. The company is also working with an external adviser to gauge strategic and financial alternatives for its hospitality portfolio.

* The performance of U.S. hotels continued to be severely impacted by the pandemic in the week ended May 9, weekly data from STR showed. STR, which tracks the hospitality industry, recorded a year-over-year fall of 74.4% in revenue per available room for the week to $22.95. Average daily rate slid 42.1% to end the week at $76.35, while occupancy declined 55.9%, to 30.1%.

* Kennedy-Wilson Holdings Inc. formed a $2 billion platform with Fairfax Financial Holdings Ltd. that will target first mortgage loans backed by real estate in the Western U.S., Ireland and the U.K.

* JP Morgan Asset Management is launching its Real Estate Credit Opportunity Fund with a goal of raising $2 billion to $3 billion, Bloomberg News reported. The fund will target 10% to 15% net returns investing in bonds and pools of loans tied to commercial real estate.

Merger arena

* Timber REIT Rayonier Inc. completed its acquisition of Pope Resources A Delaware LP. The consideration comprises $169.5 million in cash, 7.1 million Rayonier common shares and 4.6 million Rayonier LP units, and the REIT also assumed $45 million of Pope Resources' term credit facility.

* REIT Americold Realty Trust is among several potential suitors looking to purchase Hillsboro, Ore.-based cold storage service provider Henningsen Cold Storage Co., which could fetch more than $500 million in a deal, Bloomberg News reported, citing people with knowledge of the matter.

* CoStar Group Inc. agreed to acquire the commercial real estate division of Ten-X LLC from private equity firm Thomas H. Lee Partners LP for $190 million in cash.

* Uniti Group Inc. is selling a 90% stake in its wireless tower business, Uniti Towers, to Melody Investment Advisors LP for roughly $220 million in cash.

The gavel

* South Korea's Mirae Asset Global Investments Co. Ltd. filed a counter lawsuit against China's Anbang Insurance Group Co. Ltd. over the Korean firm's unilateral termination of a $5.8 billion deal for the transfer of 15 luxury hotels in the U.S., Pulse reported. Mirae had canceled the deal, citing breaches of certain obligations, to which the Chinese firm replied with a lawsuit in hopes of pushing the deal through. In the countersuit, Mirae claimed it could not secure title insurance for the hotels because Anbang did not disclose an ongoing lawsuit over its ownership of the properties.

Around the world

* The Hong Kong government rejected all four bids for a nonindustrial development site in Kowloon, Hong Kong's Kai Tak area, with an estimated value of between HK$7.1 billion and HK$8.1 billion, for not meeting the reserve price for the property.

* Goldin Financial Holdings Ltd. agreed to sell a land parcel in the Kai Tak area for HK$7.04 billion to Top Family Group Ltd.

* Axa Investment Managers - Real Assets sold a 20% stake in data center platform DATA4 for €200 million to Danish pension provider PFA, IPE Real Assets reported, citing Michael Bruhn, head of real estate at PFA.

Earnings call coverage

With the first-quarter earnings season winding down, S&P Global Market Intelligence reporters tuned in to conference calls hosted by some of the larger players in the real estate sector.

Simon Property Group will continue to pay dividends in 2020 in cash, CEO says

COVID-19, CECL contributed to Marriott's $65M bad debt expense in Q1

Ventas prepares for dividend decision as seniors housing occupancy falls

PulteGroup targets $100M in annualized savings, expects $10M charge in Q2

Government support of ailing retailers is 'not enough,' Brookfield CEO says

Macerich execs talk dividend plan, challenged rent collection

Growing remote working buzz 'emotional noise,' says major office landlord CEO

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