CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA—The year just past left more than a few commercial real-estate records in the dust, including merger and acquisition activity. SNL Financial says 2015 established a new high-watermark (34) for the number of M&A deals announced in real estate, although the dollar volume of SNL-covered deals came in second to 2007′s $113.6 billion.
The 34 M&A deals SNL reported for calendar ’15 compares to 26 in ’07 and is more than twice the 16 registered in 2014. Dollar volume was $79.3 billion, not including five deals in which the dollar value wasn’t disclosed. That compares to $42.3 billion for all of ’14; in fact, the fourth quarter of ’15 alone surpassed all four quarters of the year prior.
A key player in ‘07′s entity-level acquisitions was the Blackstone Group, and the asset management giant was active once again in ’15. Blackstone’s $8-billion takeover of BioMed Realty Trust represented the largest REIT privatization announced last year; together with Blackstone’s two other takeouts, it represented 20% of the total SNL-covered real estate deal value in ’15. The other two were Blackstone’s $2-billion privatization of shopping center REIT Excel Trust Inc., and its $6-billion acquisition of Strategic Hotels & Resorts Inc.
The year’s biggest M&A transaction also occurred in the lodging sector: the announced $14.4-billion acquisition of Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc. by Marriott International Inc. “The deal surprised many observers, as Marriott originally passed on a possible opportunity with Starwood” in April of last year, noting in its Q1 conference call that its main focus was “driving organic growth,” according to SNL.
Fast-forward to November ‘15, and “Marriott changed its tune,” SNL reported. In a news release announcing the merger, Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson called it “an opportunity to create value by combining the distribution and strengths of Marriott and Starwood, enhancing our competitiveness in a quickly evolving marketplace.”
The biggest deal in the REIT sector was the $12-billion combination of Weyerhaeuser Co. and Plum Creek Timber Co., also announced this past November. The timber REIT that results will be valued at $23 billion, according to SNL.
However, SNL also noted that the merger’s benefits were less apparent for Weyerhaeuser shareholders than those of Plum Creek, who will see a 20.7% on the company’s closing price as of this past Nov. 6. After the deal was announced, SNL quoted Raymond James analysts Collin Mings and Paul Puryear as saying that although Weyerhaeuser’s desire to grow in the South—a Plum Creek stronghold—was understandable, the financial benefits of the deal to Weyerhaeuser “are not obvious to us.”
BMO Capital Markets analyst Mark Wilde wrote that Weyerhaeuser “appears to be paying full value” for Plum Creek’s holdings, and added that making the deal work will require the company to “retain PCL’s strong field foresters and the firm’s capital-savvy approach to timberland management,” SNL reported last November.
By sector, SNL-covered hotel companies figured in six deals, aggregating $23.6 billion in total deal value and outpacing all other sectors. Multifamily companies ranked second, aggregating nearly $13.4 billion in total deal value across five transactions.
Other large deals announced in ’15 included the merger of nets lease REITs Gramercy Property Trust and Chambers Street Properties, Global Logistics Properties‘ acquisition of Industrial Income Trust and a pair of combinations in the single-family rental sector: Colony American Homes and Starwood Waypoint Residential Trust; and American Homes 4 Rent and American Residential Properties Inc.