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On Jan. 2, BGC Partners (NASDAQ: BGCP ) announced two independent commercial real estate acquisitions through its subsidiary Newmark Grubb Knight Frank (NGKF). The expansions of the brokerage business' commercial real estate presence into both Philadelphia and Denver are illustrations of the company's efforts to further grow lucrative areas at a time when it's facing continued pressure on its credit rating.
BGC, which is 25% owned by Cantor Fitzgerald, was one of the companies most badly hit by the 9/11 attacks. Ever since, BCG has been fighting back in an attempt to survive and flourish. With its current dividend yield of 13.2%, you should cheer its current strategy, as it positions the company to succeed in the year ahead.
The Smith Mack acquisition
BGC's Philadelphia acquisition targeted Smith Mack, a prominent real estate services company that BGC had partnered with since 2009. The combination of the two should bolster BGC's presence in the region and its services business in general. Traditionally, real estate companies have made money earning leasing commissions, but in recent years there has been a big shift toward providing services such as property management, expansion planning, and general consulting.
Newmark's largest competitors, including Cushman & Wakefield, Jones Lang LaSalle (NYSE: JLL ) , and CBRE Group (NYSE: CBG ) , have an edge because of their size. Their reach and credibility give them a competitive advantage when trying to win contracts from large corporate clients. For this reason, Newmark's expansion is a sound approach to bolstering its market share. Further growth in its service business could also help to stabilize the company's cash flow and may be help in ultimately improving its credit rating.
Barry M. Gosin, Newmark's CEO, said: "Smith Mack has experienced the benefits of the dramatic transformation that has taken place since Newmark Knight Frank and Grubb & Ellis were acquired by BGC Partners. Aside from being a terrific partner that helped us secure a leading position in the Greater Philadelphia region, its desire to join NGKF is confirmation that our expanded platform offers clients the best real estate solutions in the industry."
On Jan. 7, the company released its 2013 forecast for the city, stating relatively flat metrics this year but improving fundamentals. "We expect a modest uptick in office leasing as the market continues to improve, with a return to robust growth delayed until the labor market recovers in earnest and corporate users feel more comfortable planning for expansion," Newmark Executive Vice President Robert Clements said.
The Frederick Ross acquisition
Frederick Ross, which was the oldest full-service commercial real estate firm in Denver, represents another important strategic acquisition for BGC. While the financial details of the deal weren't disclosed, suggesting that the numbers are relatively small, the significance of the move, announced the same day as the Smith Mack transaction, is in what it represents. BGC is clearly making an effort to expand its presence in commercial real estate.
"Frederick Ross Company has built an outstanding reputation in the Denver market," Gosin said of this deal, adding that the "team has benefited from the transformation that has taken place since Newmark and Grubb & Ellis became part of BGC, and we will continue to work collaboratively to grow our presence in this important market."
The credit issue
Bloomberg reported last week that Cantor may face another credit rating downgrade as a result of diminished revenues. "Cantor's institutional business and BGC's financial brokerage business will remain challenged in the medium term because of lower trading volume," Fitch analyst Mohak Rao said. Given this concern, it will be important for BGC and Cantor to firm up their earnings going forward to avoid the further slump. S&P has already downgraded the company's debt to junk status.
The push into commercial real estate service may give BGC the bolstered cash flows it needs to quickly improve its numbers and help it and Cantor stay out of the credit doghouse. The stock that ended last year with a nice surge higher has given back some of its value since the credit discussion has come to the forefront. Meanwhile, the company's large dividend has made it an attractive option in a landscape where yield is hard to find.
It's another great sign for a stock when insiders start acquiring it on the open market. A recent Dividend Channel report showed that BGC was the top-ranked dividend stock with strong insider buying and also cited strong internal fundamentals and growth expectations. After reading this type of report with today's credit discussion in mind, it's easy to wonder whether the writers are looking at the same company, but the message is that the company seems to have broad-based support, even from within.
Overall, BGC looks like a solid additional to your portfolio at current levels. There are definitely some real risks associated with the stock, placing it more in the speculative category than the core-portfolio one, but it looks attractive. At its current levels, and with its solid dividend, I think the stock is a buy.