Monday, June 19, 2017

Digital Realty pays a premium for DuPont Fabros

Late last week came news of the latest consolidation in the rapidly-evolving market of colocation data centres. Digital Realty agreed to acquire DuPont Fabros Technology (DFT) in an all-stock transaction valued at approximately $7.6 billion. DFT owns and operates a fleet of 12 purpose-built data centres concentrated in Northern Virginia, Chicago and Silicon Valley - three markets red hot for data centre activity. The DFT properties offer a combined total 3.5 million gross sq feet and 302 megawatts of available critical load. Digital Realty is the premier name in data centres, as it operates 156 key colocation facilities in 11 countries on four continents. The merger especially boosts Digital Realty's presence in hyperscale data centres in top U.S. markets.

DuPont Fabros hits a home run with hyperscale data centres

The quick summary for DFT is that all of the space in its 12 massive data centres is fully leased. The company is enjoying double digit growth in both revenue and earnings. A significant expansion programme is underway, including its first venture into Canada. The stock price has been soaring and now there is a takeover offer valued at $7.6 billion from the industry's leading player.

DFT was founded in 1997 and is based in Washington DC. Its co-founder and ongoing chairman of the board is Lammot J. du Pont and its second co-founder was Hossein Fateh. Together they pursued the concept of managing data centres as real estate, helping their enterprise customers to consolidate the rent, taxes and maintenance costs all under one lease. In 2007, the company went public as a real estate investment trust (REIT).

For the quarter ended March 31, 2017, earnings were 45c per share compared to 36c per share in the first quarter of 2016. Earnings increased 9c per share, or 25%, year over year, which was primarily due to new leases that commenced in 2016 and the first quarter of 2017 and lower preferred stock dividends, partially offset by the impact of the issuance of common stock that occurred late in the first quarter of 2016. For the year ended December 31, 2016, earnings were $1.67 per share compared to loss of 40c per share in 2015. The company proudly notes the credit worthiness of its leases, saying that investment grade or equivalent customers will represent more than 50% of total revenue.

DFT flagship location is its Ashburn, Virginia campus, which comprises of 2.138 million gross sq feet, built on 159.7 acres with a total critical load of 207.9 megawatts. Ashburn, commonly referred to as Data Center Alley, benefits from dense fibre connections to all major U.S. carriers, the presence of many federal agency customers and low-energy costs from Dominion Virginia Power. On this point, it should also be noted the Commonwealth of Virginia, along with Dominion Virginia Power (the leading electric utility in the state), have been laggards in regard to renewable energy. Dominion's website still lists coal generation as constituting 26.5% of its energy mix, while renewables (including hydro) account for only 5.6%. Another data centre in nearby Reston, Virginia adds another 256,000 sq feet of colocation capacity. For the central U.S., DFT owns and operates a campus in Elk Grove Village, Illinois (just outside Chicago) with a total 820,000 sq feet of space in two building. For the West Coast, DFT owns and operates a data centre in Santa Clara, California offering 360,000-sq feet of space and 36.6 megawatts of critical load capacity.

In 2016, DFT acquired the former Toronto Star printing plant in Vaughan, Ontario for $55 million CAD. Construction is underway to convert the former printing plant into a state-of-the-art data centre with 23 computer rooms spread across 21,016 M2 with a critical data power capacity of up to 46 MW.

As mentioned above, DFT also has a very busy expansion program under way.  It has six data centre development projects currently under construction in Ashburn, Chicago, Santa Clara and Toronto for a total expected investment of approximately $750 million. These new facilities represent roughly a 26% expansion of its standalone critical load capacity. All are expected to be online within the next 12 months, and remarkably the company has already pre-leased 48% of the new capacity. DuPont Fabros also boasts strategic land holdings in Ashburn and Oregon, which will support the future delivery of up to 163 megawatts of incremental capacity, along with 56 acres of land recently acquired in Phoenix.

In May, DFT confirmed its largest wholesale lease to date. A customer pre-leased 28.8 megawatts of electrical loads across two markets: its new CH2 data centre in Elk Grove Village and the first two phases of a new building being constructed on its Ashburn campus. In short, DFT is firing on all cylinders. The company has been the enviable position of signing customers even faster than it can build its hyperscale data centres. No wonder Digital Realty was willing to pay $7.6 billion to acquire them.

DLR gets interconnected metro data centre campuses

With 156 data centres to its name, Digital Realty (DLR) was already a competitive provider in all the DFT markets mentioned above. The merger with DFT gives its added capacity in Northern Virginia, Chicago and Silicon Valley. More importantly, it expands Digital Realty’s presence in the hyperscale segment, where top-tier cloud and content companies are eager to sign long term leases in major markets rather than going through the trouble of acquiring land, gaining permits and then building data centres on their own. DLR estimates that capex investments for hyperscale cloud infrastructure amounted to $26.3 billion in 2016, up from $21.1 billion in 2015.

In Northern Virginia's Data Center Alley, DLR already operated 17 data centres with a combined 2.2 million sq feet of space. DFT adds nine prime buildings. So now, the combined DLR will have a total of 26 data centres and 4.4 million sq feet of space within a 20-mile radius. With today's data centre interconnect (DCI) DWDM technology, the company will have the opportunity to tie these metro facilities together like never before. In Chicago, the merger will give DLR a combined 7 data centres and 2.5 million sq feet of space in a 25-mile radius. And in Silicon Valley, DLR will have 16 data centres and 2.1 million sq feet of space in a 7-mile radius.

Digital Realty's CEO A. William Stein commented, "This strategic and complementary transaction significantly enhances Digital Realty's ability to support the growth of hyper-scale users in the top U.S. data centre metro areas, while providing meaningful customer and geographic diversification for DuPont Fabros".

As for combined customers, an investor presentation following the merger announcement listed IBM, Facebook, CenturyLink, Rackspace, Equinix, LinkedIn, AT&T, JP Morgan Chase, Verizon, Dropbox and other marquee names.

Continuing the consolidation

The DFT-DLR deal is certainly notable for its rich valuation. It adds momentum to a sector that we already knew was red hot. In May, Equinix completed its acquisition of 29 data centres and their operations from Verizon Communications. This deal was valued at $3.6 billion in cash. Combined, the acquired properties cover approximately three million gross sq feet of data centre space. Also in May, private equity funds including Medina Capital Advisors and Longview Asset Management acquired CenturyLink's data centres and colocation for $1.86 billion. This deal consisted of CenturyLink's portfolio of 57 data centres which includes approximately 195 megawatts of power across 2.6 million sq feet of raised floor capacity. From the numbers we can see that there is no clear correlation between acquisition price and sq footage. As with all real estate, location is the prime factor, which brings the top tier customers in search of hyperscale space.

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