Large Tech Transactions Spurred by Demand, Cap Markets

According to Dilara Sukhov and Ranjini Venkatesan of Moody's, market trends and positive capital markets fundamentals have allowed tech infrastructure REITs to strengthen their market presence, portfolios and growth prospects.

Dilara Sukhov

According to Moody’s, strong demand growth in the data center and wireless tower real estate markets has prompted the tech infrastructure REITs to make large acquisitions.  Larger scale and footprint are meaningful advantages in an environment where technology is constantly evolving and that, in Moody’s opinion, has led to consolidation in this segment. Additionally, the REITs’ ability to access new capital at favorable pricing, in Moody’s opinion, has greatly enhanced their capacity to execute large acquisitions. The seven rated tech infrastructure REITs have outperformed the broader stock index 1[1] in 2017 and there has been good demand for their debt offerings.

Co-author Ranjini Venkatesan, Moody's
Co-author Ranjini Venkatesan, Moody’s

In Moody’s view, the transactions undertaken by the tech infrastructure REITs have improved their market presence, product portfolios and growth prospects. Market demand trends, ability to adapt to technological advances, financial policy, funding strategy and capital access will continue to be the key factors influencing the REITs’ credit profiles.

In the last two months, two major transactions have been announced in the tech infrastructure segment. On June 9, Digital Realty Inc. (Baa2 stable) and DuPont Fabros (Ba1, review for upgrade), both established data center REITs, announced a definitive agreement to merge in an all-stock transaction. On July 17, Crown Castle International (Baa3 negative), one of the nation’s leading wireless infrastructure REITs, announced that it agreed to acquire a fiber asset owner, LTS Group Holdings LLC (Lightower, B2 CFR stable), for $7.1 billion in cash.

A meaningful increase in global IP traffic, forecasted to grow at 24% compounded annually between 2016 and 2021[2], would boost demand for data storage infrastructure. Public cloud operators, social media/new media players, and network/communications providers would likely drive demand for data center space. The merger of Digital Realty and DuPont Fabros, if completed as proposed, will create a REIT with a complete product suite, significant domestic and international market presence and a diversified tenant base. According to Moody’s, DuPont Fabros’ strong relationship with its core tenants, reflected in its consistently high portfolio occupancy rate and the many multi-megawatt lease signings, would likely strengthen Digital Realty’s credit profile.

Growth in global mobile data traffic, which is expected to increase sevenfold between 2016 and 2021[3], is resulting in a greater need for wireless infrastructure.  Strong demand for wireless data services has led to significant investments in both new tower assets and small cells by the tower REITs, and Moody’s expects this trend to continue in the next two to three years.  Small cells offer a compelling operating environment due in part to the growing importance of the “Internet of Things” and the roll-out of the next generation of wireless technology, known as 5G, in the next two to three years. Crown Castle’s proposed acquisition of Lightower enhances the REIT’s capacity to pursue significant small cell opportunities by providing fiber inventory in several top metro markets. This acquisition comes on the heels of two recent smaller cell investments by Crown Castle (Wilcon for $600 million and FiberNet for approximately $1.5 billion) earlier this year.

The tech infrastructure REITs have outperformed the FTSE NAREIT All Equity REITs Index by approximately 21 percent, year-to-date (July 28, 2017 closing prices). The data center REITs have issued $1.7 billion of unsecured debt and over $200 million of equity through July 2017, using the capital to fund ongoing development projects of almost $3 billion on an aggregate gross asset base of $25 billion, and nearly $500 million of acquisitions. Tower REITs raised $5 billion of debt capital and $6 billion via equity issuances over this same time frame, funding about $10 billion of acquisitions year-to-date.

[1] The FTSE NAREIT US Real Estate Index Series, a comprehensive family of REIT-focused indexes that span the commercial real estate industry

[2] Cisco Virtual Networking Index

[3] Cisco Virtual Networking Index

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