"The worst is behind us," chairman B. Francis Saul II told stockholders yesterday at the B.F. Saul Real Estate Investment Trust annual meeting. "To get into the black on cash flow in the next 9 to 18 months is a realistic goal, though not a sure thing," he said.
That was not enough for some stockholders, who have not received a dividend since Dec. 19, 1974. "I invested in the stock for the dividends," said one. "Dividends three or four years from now don't do us any good. What are you going to do about it?"
Saul reiterated what he had said before. "I intend to sound optimistic. Results will get better and get better rapidly."
Saul told the meeting at the Kennedy-Warren Apartments that the trust's problems in 1975 and 1976 were ones that confronted large banks and other REITs that had made large construction loans, especially for apartment construction. "We thought it was a safe place for loans. Loans for apartments were safe even during the Depression. But this time it was the worst place to be. We were murdered."
During those years, he explained, there was too much building going on and not enough materials or contractors. Contractors renegotiated for higher fees, interest rates went up, energy costs rose suddenly and dramatically, and when the projects were finished, there was no market for them. Builders cut rents, costs went up, and the result, he said, was "the most horrifying thing I've seen in my business career."
The foreclosures of the past are by and large finished, Saul said, noting that only three properties remain the subject of court actions.
The task of the coming year, he said, is to get the properties that the trust now holds on a sound financial footing. The trust management plans to launch an agressive leasing campaign and gradually increase rents.
The trust lost, before certain non-cash charges, $1,367,000 in the first quarter of fiscal 1977, compared with $1,702,0000 in the first quarter of 1976. Saul said, however, that the losses looked worse than they were.He noted that the performance of the trust's motels is always weaker in the winter and that certain commercial properties had been leased, with rents and occupancy effective after the quarter had ended.
The three questions on which the stockholders voted at the meeting all passed by large margins. The only issue that aroused any controversy was an amendment to the Declaration of Trust that reduced the par value of the trust's stock from $10 to $1. Saul noted that many large corporations have a par value of $1 and also that the trust's stock currently is selling well below par value.
In response to a question, Saul said that the trust has nearly completed the approval process that would permit the trust to become a corporation. While the trust has no plans to take that step, he said it took the step in case the Internal Revenue Service ever disqualifies the trust as an REIT.