Letter to shareholders
2020 was a year of challenges for our economy and for our society. The impacts of the pandemic, against a backdrop of divisive politics and important social issues, created a difficult operating environment for our business.
But the strategy we outlined at the beginning of 2019 proved beneficial and resilient and enabled us to achieve further success in 2020. Scaling Safehold, strengthening our balance sheet, and simplifying our overall portfolio remained the three main pillars in our ongoing mission to maximize value for shareholders and we made important progress on all fronts during the year. In addition, we found ways to provide assistance to those most impacted in the communities in which we live and work, and we redoubled our efforts to make our organization one all employees can feel proud to be part of.
Two years into our new strategy, our team’s hard work has enabled us to deliver strong results over the 2019–2020 period, generating total shareholder returns of 74%, increasing our common equity value per share (inclusive of SAFE mark-to-market) over 300% and increasing our dividend by 22%. For 2020 alone, despite the difficult business conditions, total shareholder return was positive 5%, book value per share increased 79% and the dividend increased 10%. With strong momentum, and a solid foundation to build upon, we look forward to accelerating our strategy even further over the next two years and hitting full stride as a company.
Scaling Safehold, strengthening our balance sheet, and simplifying our overall portfolio remained the three main pillars in our ongoing mission to maximize value for shareholders and we made important progress on all fronts during the year.
Over the past four years we have built a powerful platform to create and grow the modern ground lease ecosystem. The success of Safehold, the first publicly traded, nationally scaled, institutional quality ground lease entity, continues to add significant value to iStar. As founder, investment manager and 65% owner of Safehold, iStar has used its significant strengths to help grow Safehold into the recognized leader in this rapidly developing industry. Based on the market value of our ownership position in Safehold, this success generated over $1.5 billion in unrealized gains for iStar shareholders by year end.
With a portfolio of ground leases now in excess of $3 billion and significant growth prospects ahead, Safehold enters 2021 with the opportunity to continue expanding and making its modern ground lease a mainstream part of the commercial real estate world. For investors, the 100% payment rate on our ground leases during the pandemic helped reinforce the value of our safe, long-term cash flows and our continued growth should enable investors to begin to see the significant value embedded in Safehold’s large, owned real estate residual portfolio, which now exceeds a current value of $5 billion. In addition, Safehold recently received investment grade credit ratings from Moody’s and Fitch at Baa1 and BBB+, respectively, which should create further opportunities to scale our business more quickly and serve our customers more flexibly. We are obviously excited about Safehold’s prospects in 2021 and beyond.
Hand in hand with our ground lease strategy, our balance sheet strategy has been to push out debt maturities, increase flexibility and create a strong foundation for executing our business plan. Since 2019, we have increased unencumbered assets to $5 billion, executed $1.7 billion of debt issuance and refinancing, and redeemed $200 million of convertible securities. In 2020, we pushed our weighted average debt maturity to 4.3 years with no corporate maturities for 20 months.
Our common equity of $2.1 billion (inclusive of SAFE mark-to-market) translates to $29.05 common equity per share, a 96% premium over our year-end share price of $14.85. Shrinking this value gap is an important objective over the next two years.
While some have clearly recognized the value being created in our ground lease investments, we believe simplifying our portfolio will help more investors see the intrinsic value and potential upside at iStar today. While Covid hampered efforts to sell certain assets, our portfolio management team has now reduced legacy assets to less than 15% of our asset base, and returned over $440 million from monetizations in the past two years to deploy into the ground lease ecosystem or to return to shareholders in dividends and share repurchases.
Over the last two years, iStar has repurchased $123 million in shares at an average price of
$10.64 per share and increased its dividend twice. During 2020, monetizations totaled $191 million, stock repurchases totaled $48 million at $11.48 per share and we paid $33 million of common dividends.
With real estate transaction activity picking up significantly and vaccinations now in full swing around the country, we see the next two years as an opportunity to continue delivering on our goals of capturing the full value of our ground lease strategy and simplifying our story for investors. Together, these two actions should unlock significant value at iStar and provide a very bright future for shareholders.
We thank you for your support and look forward to further success together.
Chairman & Chief Executive Officer
The evolution of a revolution
Two years ago, iStar went “all-in” to focus on scaling the modern ground lease industry it had created in 2017. The forward-thinking decision—marked by strengthening the balance sheet and reallocating capital from legacy assets to the ground lease business—positioned iStar to continue building momentum in 2020 in the face of a worldwide pandemic.
The 3-part strategy:
Scale our game-changing ground lease platform
- Focus management team and investment resources around new core mission
Strengthen the balance sheet
- Enhance flexibility
- Extend maturity profile
Simplify the business
- Monetize legacy assets
- Return capital to shareholders
Scale Safehold’s position as the modern ground lease leader
iStar helped Safehold’s portfolio grow to $3.2b in 2020 as the modern ground lease industry continues to take shape. Once the market began to show signs of life following the COVID slowdown, Safehold closed a record 13 transactions in Q4 to build strong momentum heading into 2021.
As founder, manager and largest shareholder, iStar saw its investment in Safehold increase over 100% in 2020.
Safehold credit ratings of Baa1 from Moody’s & BBB+ from Fitch
(1) CBRE conducts independent appraisals of the Combined Property Value, or CPV, of Safehold’s ground leases and the buildings thereon, as if there were no ground lease in place. The buildings are owned by the ground lease tenants, but Safehold typically has the right to acquire the buildings for no consideration at the expiration or termination of the ground lease. Safehold relies in part on CBRE’s appraisals of the CPV of its portfolio in calculating Unrealized Capital Appreciation. SAFE may utilize management’s estimate of CPV for ground lease investments recently acquired that CBRE has not yet appraised. Please refer to Safehold’s Current Report on Form 8-K filed with the SEC on February 11, 2021 and “Risk Factors” in Safehold’s Annual Report on Form 10-K for the year ended December 31, 2020, as updated from time to time in its subsequent periodic reports, filed with the SEC, for a discussion of risk factors related to these calculations.
(2) Q4 ’20 market value of iStar’s investment in Safehold is $2,521m, calculated as iStar’s ownership of 34.8m shares of SAFE at the December 31, 2020 closing stock price of $72.49. Q4 ’19 market value of iStar’s investment in Safehold is $1,256m, calculated as iStar’s ownership of 31.2m shares of SAFE at the December 31, 2019 closing stock price of $40.30
Strengthen the balance sheet to bolster liquidity and flexibility
Simplify iStar’s business to consolidate resources and return capital to shareholders
Return capital to shareholders
iStar is uniquely positioned to scale Safehold’s $3.2b portfolio, targeting a $7t addressable market long overdue for innovation.
We invite you to join us as we transform commercial real estate with a fundamentally more efficient capital solution for building owners and a new engine of wealth creation for shareholders.
This year, we intensified our commitment to embracing a culture that reflects values rooted in diversity, equity and inclusion, while solidifying our foundation across a wide range of ESG principles.
Directors and Officers
Chairman & Chief Executive Officer
Nominating and Governance
Clifford De Souza(1)(4)
Audit Committee Chair
Investment Committee Chair
Barry W. Ridings(1)(2)
Compensation Committee Chair
(1) Audit Committee
(2) Compensation Committee
(3) Investment Committee
(4) Nominating and Governance Committee
Chairman & Chief Executive Officer
President & Chief Investment Officer
Chief Financial Officer
Chief Legal Officer
Head of Capital Markets
Elisha J. Blechner
Head of Portfolio Management
Chief Administrative Officer
Head of Marketing
Head of Investments
Barclay G. Jones III
Net Lease Investments
Head of People, Talent & Inclusion
Investor Information Services
iStar Inc. is a listed company on the New York Stock Exchange and is traded under the ticker “STAR.” The Company has filed all required Annual Chief Executive Officer Certifications with the NYSE. In addition, the Company has filed with the SEC, the certifications of the Chief Executive Officer and Chief Financial Officer required under Section 302 and Section 906 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 as exhibits to our most recently filed Annual Report on Form 10-K.
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Investor Relations & Marketing