The Next CRE Casualty: Union Square's W Hotel
With the New York's Stuy Town implosion getting picked up by the Wall Street Journal months after being written about on Zero Hedge, the question now is what the next landmark property to go bankrupt will be. According to Real Estate Alert, the iconic Union Square W Hotel may just be it. The hotel, which was acquired by Dubai's troubled sovereign wealth fund, Istithmar, for $285 million in 2006 (one of the few acquisitions of a hotel at a price of more than $1 million per room) has been bleeding cash lately after room rates have declined by 24%. The result has been an inability for the owner to even meet debt service obligations: a sure sign the current balance sheet is doomed, with an outright default just a matter of time.
Per Real Estate Alert:
Istithmar, the investment arm of Dubai’s royal family, used high leverage to build a portfolio of high-end office and hotel properties, many of which were acquired near the top of the market. It also made a number of private equity plays, including buyouts of retailers Loehmann’s and Barneys New York. The fund plowed some $2.5 billion of its own cash into $27 billion of investments over the past six years, according to Bloomberg. Last month, it froze its investment activity and said it planned to restructure its debt.
And here is why the math on every single REIT "upside case" out there is highly suspect:
The hotel’s net cash flow this year is running at an annualized rate of $8 million, down from $14.8 million in 2008, according to the servicer report. That barely covers the $7.5 million of annual debt service on the senior mortgage, but isn’t enough for the mezzanine loan. Like all luxury hotels in Manhattan, the W New York Union Square, at 201 Park Avenue South, is struggling with a drop in revenue because of the recession. Room rates are down $100 from a year ago, according to a servicer report. What’s more, the hotel’s annual property tax more than tripled, to $3 million.
If industry indications are any sign, the rebound is still far away for the troubled New York hotel segment:
The average occupancy for luxury hotels in Manhattan was 74.2% in the first eight months of the year, down from 81.9% a year earlier, according to Smith Travel Research. Room rates plunged 24%, driving room revenues down 31%.
As for those about to get whacked when and if Istithmar decided to call it a day: some very unhappy clients of Credit Suisse:
The purchase was financed with a $232 million debt package from Credit Suisse that consisted of a $115 million senior mortgage and a $117 million mezzanine loan. Credit Suisse securitized the senior loan and placed the mezzanine debt with one or more unidentified high-yield investors. The interest-only senior mortgage, with a 6.5% coupon, matures in October 2011. It was securitized via a $3.4 billion pooled offering (Credit Suisse Commercial Mortgage Trust, 2006-C5).
And while the maturity is only two years in the future (as are many other scheduled CRE maturity rolls), the likelihood that the loan will continue paying current income for the next 24 months is virtually nil.
So if this is the fate of one of the sovereign fund's landmark properties, what will happen to its two other trophy hotels?
Istithmar’s real estate holdings include two other Manhattan properties: the Mandarin Oriental at Columbus Circle and the office building at Six Times Square. Istithmar has been converting Six Times Square into a hotel, but work on the project appears to have slowed dramatically.
Alas, examples such as this continue being merely the tip of the iceberg. In the meantime, various hotel and multi-apartment REITs continue receiving wanton upgrades by analysts who only care about pocketing underwriting commissions. Yet the cliff when the bulk of owners realize they are unable to service debt payments is rapidly approaching (just look at the exploding number of names on the special servicer watch list). How that particular reconciliation of reality and analyst-fantasy plays out will surely be a fun one to watch.