When most people think of Nevada, they think of Las Vegas and its glitzy casinos and hotels. But for some very wealthy individuals and investors, Summerlin is the perfect place to bet on the next big project by activist investor Bill Ackman.
Set to double in size
Only about 8 miles from downtown Las Vegas, Summerlin is close to the city but feels like it's tucked away on its own reserve. The area is not the typical desert landscape you might imagine, as the breathtaking scenery within the nearby Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area includes lush greens, lakes, and stunning rock formations.
The official Summerlin area is a 22,500-acre master-planned community, meaning the entire project has specific development plans instead of developing as it grows. The community includes nine golf courses, 22 schools, and multiple shopping and entertainment facilities.
There are currently around 40,000 homes in the Summerlin area, housing about 100,000 residents. With nearly 6,000 more open acres left to develop, the developer plans to eventually more than double the current number of homes and residents in Summerlin.
Betting on this growth with a historic Las Vegas company
Typical Las Vegas businesses could see some payoff from this -- companies such as MGM Resorts international that provide entertainment and convention space for these nearby residents. However, the best play here is likely the company responsible for Summerlin's development: The Howard Hughes Corporation (NYSE:HHC).
Howard Hughes is an historic Las Vegas company. Founder Howard Hughes bought the property that is now Summerlin in the 1950s and named it after his grandmother, Jean Amelia Summerlin. Through many different ownership structures, buyouts, and sell-offs, The Howard Hughes Corporation now stands as its own publicly traded company with four planned communities and over 30 properties all over the country.
Entrepreneur Bill Ackman has been called "the poster boy for activist investing" and "Baby Buffett" for organizing massive investment deals that themselves seem to move markets. One of his most recent activist campaigns has been short-selling about $1 billion worth of Herbalife stock and very publicly alleging the multilevel marketing company to be nothing more than a pyramid scheme "that will collapse or otherwise be shut down by regulators." Ackman is now worth about $2.5 billion, and is the chairman and 26% owner of the Howard Hughes Corp.
Is Howard Hughes worth a bet?
Summerlin is The Howard Hughes Corporation's key asset, but the company's holdings span major cities across this U.S., from New York City to Washington, D.C., to Houston. It is still relatively small, with a market cap of just over $5 billion and just $190 million in operating profit last year.
However, this is not a bet on current operations, but rather the company's future, as it appears Ackman has much more up his sleeve for Howard Hughes. At it trades for just 16 times projected 2016 earnings, Howard Hughes Corp. could be a solid long-term growth investment.
One way Ackman could grow the business is as a holding company for all sorts of interesting real estate and development projects. Ackman is the founder of Pershing Square Holdings, an investment firm that held funds valued at $16 billion by the end of 2014. Using an influx of cash from Pershing Square and the Howard Hughes properties is one way Ackman could turn this into a great play for long-term investors.
There hasn't been much of a stir about the Howard Hughes Corp. yet, but that's because its investors and developers aren't focused on short-term results. Instead, Ackman and investors like him are looking for long-term growth, and Howard Hughes Corp. could be a good way to get in early on this "Baby Buffett" company.