Retail: Early Read on 2011 Leases

It’s that time of year again. With 2011 10-Ks starting to hit the wire, we just completed our initial look at the change in average lease durations by company. While the majority of retail has yet to file, our observations reflect the 40% that has already filed.  

We track these lease movements religiously, because it needs to triangulate with where a company is headed as it relates to its store size, desired locations, and how much it’s paying for rent. We particularly focus on this because these are all off-balance sheet, so naturally Wall-Street thinks that they are free of capital cost. That’s not true. There’s embedded growth in each of these contracts that needs to be included in analyzing each company. Some companies have more meaningful step-ups than others, which directly effects the sales comp hurdle needed too leverage occupancy. In addition, this is an area where – over a 2-3 year duration – we can see a material change in operating margins based on changes in lease agreements.

Our analysis reflected in the charts below calculates the weighted average lease duration. Clearly, there are differences by format. Mall-based stores will be closer to 4-6 years. Large format boxes in strip malls are closer to 10 years. Formats out in the boonies like Cabella’s and to a lesser extent, Costco, are significantly higher. Of course, there’s also the errant 100-year lease at some department stores. But all in, we’re looking at average duration of 6-7 years today.

The initial punchline is that it is a fairly even split between those companies lengthening vs. shortening duration of lease portfolios. We thought we’d see more movement here as landlords are presumably as desperate to fill space as ever. Too early to make a broad-based call, but this is an initial observation.

Here are some of the early callouts:

  • On the company-specific side, DKS, JWN and JOEZ are all positive standouts, with DKS offering up enough for us to revisit our long-standing negative view on its approach too property acquisition.
  • As it relates to negative divergences, we’d point out JNY, CRI, and DECK, with JNY in particular giving us yet more fuel for a structurally broken fire.
  • Companies with the healthiest positioning include KCP, FDO, DLTR, CROX, VFC, SHW, and BGFV. These companies have the optionality to alter lease terms in the face of unexpected margin pressures.
  • The companies with least favorable positioning include SKX, TRLG, GCO, DKS, and JNY. While not necessarily at risk per se (though it definitely bolsters the bear case on JNY), these companies simply have less flexibility to manage their costs given longer dated lease commitments. In some cases this can be viewed positively if a retailer takes on a longer commitment in exchange for more favorable lease terms. This might in fact be the case with Joe’s Jeans (JOEZ), which started to build its owned retail in recent years and has an average duration of 9.2 years.
  • Among the biggest changes over the past year, BGFV (-1.5yrs) and ANN (-2.9yrs) posted the most significant improvements while WRC (+1.9yrs), KSS (+3.1yrs), and UA (+3.2yrs) logged the most aggressive shift toward longer-dated leases (or deferred payments). We’re not surprised to see UA given it’s just starting to grow retail and aggressively, or even WRC for that matter with both at an average duration of 8.1 and 6.4 years respectively within reason, but KSS shifting from 23 to 26 years on a significantly more mature portfolio is more surprising.
  • Since 2007 the companies that improved the most include DKS (-4.2yrs), KCP (-3yrs), BGFV and CWTR (-2.8yrs), and MFB (-2.3yrs). As one of the companies with historically a very aggressive lease portfolio, DKS is worth highlighting given the improvement in duration from over 12 years to 8 over the last four years.
  • The biggest moves towards longer dated lease portfolios include KSS (+2.7yrs), COLM (+2.6yrs), COST (+2.1yrs), CRI (+1.9yrs), and both FOSL and DECK at +1.2 years. With all but KSS and COST at an average duration less than 6.5 years, these aren’t alarming shifts, but changes on the margin do matter and is something to keep an eye on given current margin levels.

With the remaining 10-Ks coming out over the next few weeks, we will republish a complete update on the changes to lease structures across retail sometime in April. Until then, these charts are likely to raise more questions than provide answers. We are available to discuss questions and welcome any comments that this analysis might initiate.

Updated for companies that have filed a 2011 10-K reflecting change in duration since last year:

 

Retail: Early Read on 2011 Leases - Lease1

 

Updated for companies that have filed a 2011 10-K reflecting change in duration since 2007 (4yrs):

 

Retail: Early Read on 2011 Leases - Lease2

 

Complete Set as of 2010 for historical reference:

 

Retail: Early Read on 2011 Leases - Lease3 2010