Wednesday, November 4, 2020

We have another glimpse today into the pandemic’s effect on the economy from AvalonBay Communities ($AVB), the apartment rental giant that just filed its third-quarter report.

Avalon manages more than 86,000 apartments across 294 locations. So one might assume that amid a nationwide moratorium on evictions and higher unemployment, Avalon’s revenue streams and other operating metrics would suffer.

One would be correct.

Q3 revenue was $567.4 million, 3.4 percent below the year-earlier period and 5.7 percent lower than the $600.6 million Avalon reported in Q1 just prior to the pandemic’s arrival. Meanwhile, operating expenses, property taxes, general administration, interest, depreciation — they all rose from the year-earlier period, to the point that pretax income plummeted 49 percent from the year-earlier period, to $147.7 million.

More interesting to us, however, are the details of how Avalon’s revenue and operations are changing. How many people are falling behind on their rent? How much are vacancies rising? How much is rent falling, since that could suggest lower cash flows into the future? (That’s why landlords are always more willing to give you a month’s free rent rather than to cut rent, you know; so they can keep prices higher come lease renewal.)

The table below, grabbed from the Management Discussion & Analysis, offers excellent detail into what’s happening across the seven geographic markets where Avalon does business. As you can see, revenue rental is down for the first nine months of 2020 (Avalon generates essentially all its revenue from rentals), but average rental rates and occupancy rates are down, too — particularly in the metro New York area.

Beyond the numbers, however, are the narrative disclosures. Consider this statement from Avalon management:

Rental and other income decreased $19,995,000, or 3.4 percent, and increased $14,933,000, or 0.9 percent, for the three and nine months ended September 30, 2020 compared to the prior year periods.

The decrease for the three months ended September 30, 2020 is primarily due to an increase of $15,373,000 in uncollectible lease revenue as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, of which $13,101,000 relates to residential and $2,272,000 relates to commercial, as well as decreased occupancy and rental rates at our Established Communities, partially offset by additional rental income generated from development completions, development under construction and in lease-up and acquired operating communities.

In other words, Avalon saw a significant spike in uncollectible revenue in the third quarter, which accounted for 77 percent of its revenue decline in the period. Ugh.

The question then becomes whether conditions will improve for Avalon any time soon. Let’s recall that a second federal stimulus package is still nowhere in sight, and job losses started to mount in October after a summer of the first federal stimulus package at least kinda sorta keeping the economy afloat.

Now the economy is in sink-or-swim territory — and Avalon’s Q3 wasn’t going swimmingly even before we reached this point.

The lesson to learn here: whether you’re negotiating a lease or analyzing financial data, read the fine print. Lord knows what you’ll find.

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