AIR LEASE CORP AL
March 18, 2014 - 3:44pm EST by
UCB1868
2014 2015
Price: 37.50 EPS $1.80 $2.27
Shares Out. (in M): 109 P/E 17.3x 16.4x
Market Cap (in M): 4,095 P/FCF 0.0x 0.0x
Net Debt (in M): 5,500 EBIT 486 611
TEV: 9,600 TEV/EBIT 19.7x 15.7x

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Description

Introduction: Air Lease Corporation (symbol: AL) leases airplanes to commercial airlines throughout the world. The CEO of the company, Steven Udvar-Hazy, is regarded as the leading executive in the aircraft leasing industry. Although the company is only four years old, it will generate more than $1 billion in revenues this year.

Summary: Air Lease (also known as ALC or AL) is a value stock with a lot of growth. The stock price has moved up recently on strong earnings, higher sell-side price targets, and a very successful bond financing. Despite the recent move, I believe that the stock remains undervalued and is headed to $48 in the next year.

History

            Air Lease is a young company with an extremely experienced management team. The founder and CEO of AL is 68-year old Steven Udvar-Hazy. Udvar-Hazy emigrated to the U.S. from Hungary as a child. Interested in planes from an early age, Udvar-Hazy actually began making airplane deals while a student at UCLA in the 1960s. In 1973, he co-founded the aircraft leasing company that would become International Lease Finance Corporation (ILFC). As aircraft leasing was very rare in the early-70s, Udvar-Hazy is often credited as pioneering the entire industry. ILFC completed an IPO that valued the company at $100 million in 1983. Seven years later, AIG bought ILFC for $1.3 billion. Although wholly-owned by AIG, ILFC continued to operate independently out of its headquarters in Los Angeles and Udvar-Hazy remained as CEO. He left ILFC in 2010 as AIG was recovering from its near-collapse and government rescue.

            Udvar-Hazy founded AL after a contentious exit from ILFC. AIG’s management decided to put debt-laden ILFC up for sale to raise cash to pay off the bailout money. AIG did not receive any attractive bids. Udvar-Hazy led one of the groups that attempted to buy all or part of ILFC’s fleet. His group negotiated with AIG for several months, but the deal was never made. Aside from the fact that he was attempting to build a competitor, Udvar-Hazy was also trying to buy planes cheaply at the bottom of the cycle. When negotiations with AIG broke down in early-2010, Udvar-Hazy retired as CEO of ILFC. His “retirement” did not last long, though, as he founded AL within a few weeks of leaving ILFC. He would not be the last person to leave. Over the next two years, more than two dozen ILFC employees jumped to AL. These employees did not have to jump very far as AL’s Century City headquarters is literally around the block from ILFC. The most notable defection was that of John Plueger, now AL’s President and COO. Plueger actually served as ILFC’s CEO for a few weeks after Udvar-Hazy left. Plueger has worked with Udvar-Hazy for more than 26 years. AL probably has the most experienced and competent management team in the aircraft leasing industry.

            AL got off to a flying (get it?) start in 2010. The company bought its first plane in May of that year. The brand-new company raised $3.3 bil. ($1.3 bil. equity and $2 bil. committed debt) and began to make sale and lease-back deals by July. The equity capital was provided by J.P. Morgan, Commonwealth Bank of Australia, and others. By the end of 2010, AL had leased planes to more than two dozen airlines. Wasting no time, AL raised approximately $758 million in an April, 2011, IPO. The IPO price was $26.50 and the lead underwriters were J.P. Morgan and Credit Suisse. AL owned approximately 46 planes at the time of IPO. Since the IPO, AL has completed multiple debt financings and continued to build its fleet. The company owned approximately 193 planes and had 79 customers at the end of 2013. AL’s rapid growth has not gone unnoticed by Udvar-Hazy’s former employer.

            It will come as no surprise that AIG and AL are now suing each other. AIG got the ball rolling by filing a trade secrets lawsuit in April, 2012. In the suit, AIG alleges that thousands of internal documents concerning contracts, pricing, and marketing have been taken to AL by former ILFC employees. AIG claims that AL was able “to effectively steal a business”, and is seeking hundreds of million in damages. AL denies the allegations and claims that there are no trade secrets in the business anyway. It filed a countersuit against AIG in August, 2013. In this suit, AL claims that AIG / ILFC backed out of a contract to sell 25 planes to the predecessor company of AL in January, 2010. This suit seeks more than $500 million in damages. It appears doubtful that either suit will be resolved any time soon. AL has not taken any reserves against a possible judgment. AIG, by the way, will not own 100% of ILFC for much longer. AIG has agreed to sell ILFC to AerCap. AIG will, however, remain involved as it will become a major shareholder of ILFC when the deal closes.

The Business

            The airplane leasing business is a relatively straightforward spread business. A new airplane can cost $100 mil. or more. Many airlines have high borrowing costs and little negotiating power with the plane manufacturers. They lease planes to conserve capital and simplify their businesses. Leasing companies, such as AL, are able to lease planes at a profit because they have purchasing power with the plane manufacturers and are able to borrow money at attractive rates. It is very much a relationship-driven industry. AL’s management has very strong ties to the plane manufacturers, finance companies, and airlines. It probably has the greatest number of customer contacts in the industry.

There is a major trend towards leasing planes by the airlines. The aircraft leasing business did not really exist until 1973 and did not experience strong growth until the 1990s. Now, approximately 40% of the world fleet is leased. Airlines have traditionally financed aircraft purchases with equipment trust certificates or commercial bank loans. These sources of funds have declined since the financial crisis. Some investors view AL and its competitors as finance companies, but they can actually add a lot of value to the airlines. AL has every incentive to help its customers as it needs them to be successful. The lease portfolio produces stable cash flows as long as the customers remain financially secure.

            The second part of the business is the trading of airplanes. One of the reasons that airlines lease, rather than buy, planes is that they want to reduce their residual risk. A commercial plane can operate for 20-25 years, but AL usually sells its planes when they are seven or eight years old.  AL is fortunate in that has a portfolio of young planes. Its average plane is less than four years old. AL’s management has excellent knowledge of the secondary market for planes. The company has an active strategy of selling planes in up cycles and buying them in down cycles. It is difficult to forecast this part of AL’s business as the number of planes sold will vary by quarter and year.

The Customers / Geography

            Air Lease delivers planes to commercial airlines throughout the world, but focuses on emerging markets. These are triple net leases. AL’s customers include everybody from Air France to Ethiopian Airlines. The company has leased planes to 79 different airlines. AL’s most important markets, by far, are Asia and Europe. The company does surprisingly little business in North America. Udar-Hazy has, at times, criticized the business practices and egomaniac CEOs of the U.S. airlines. It makes sense for AL to focus on emerging markets as they have stronger growth and less access to capital. There is also greater risk in operating in these countries. AL and other lessors are demanding higher lease rates and contract durations from emerging market airlines. Here is a summary of AL’s business by region (from ’13 10-K):

Region                                                                         % of 2013 Revenue

Asia / Pacific                                                                          37.6%

Europe                                                                                  35.9%

Central & South America / Mexico                                         12.9%

U.S. / Canada                                                                        6.9%

Middle East / Africa                                                                6.7%

            Air Lease has an impressive roster of customer contacts throughout the world. Owing to their years at ILFC, AL’s management and staff have relationships with more than 200 airlines in more than 70 countries. While at ILFC, AL’s handful of salespeople placed more than 100 planes per year. The company’s customer base is likely to change as it gets larger. AL will continue to build a blue chip customer base.

The Planes / Leasing

            AL’s management is extremely knowledgeable about the worldwide plane market. The company owns numerous types of planes, but most are single-aisle, narrow-body planes. Its most important aircraft types are Boeing 737-800 (25.9% of total) and Airbus A320-200 (21.8%). At December 31, 2013, AL’s fleet of 193 planes included 146 narrow-body planes. AL focuses on narrow-body planes as they are the workhorses of the commercial airline business. They are easier to lease and sell than wide-body jets. The weighted average age of AL’s fleet is only 3.7 years. Unlike some competitors, AL is not burdened by an inventory of old planes with little leasing or resale value. AL’s planes are also more fuel-efficient than those of competitors. The demand for fuel-efficient planes is increasing as airlines seek to reduce fuel costs and comply with environmental restrictions.

            The size of AL’s fleet is increasing rapidly. In 2013, AL took delivery of 34 new airplanes and bought six used planes on the secondary market. The size of its fleet increased from 155 planes to 193 planes and the book value of its fleet increased from $6.25 bil. to $7.61 billion. Most of AL’s planes are located in Asia / Pacific (43.6% of fleet BV) and Europe (34.9%). The company will continue to focus on narrow-body jets. Approximately 50% of ordered planes are Boeing 737s.

            AL has long-term leases and places orders for new planes far in advance. As of December 31, 2013, AL had committed to purchasing 327 planes for approximately $27.3 billion. Most of these planes (182) will not be delivered until 2019 or later. Every plane in AL’s current fleet is leased. Most of these leases (72.5%) do not terminate until 2019 or later. The average length of a lease is 7.1 years. AL is committed to purchasing a total of 70 planes in 2014-15 for $4.4 billion. All of these planes are already leased. The company is currently focused on leasing the last few planes that will be delivered in 2016. AL has already leased some of the planes that will be delivered in 2017 and 2018.

            Air Lease has experienced minimal repossessions of its aircraft. There is always the risk that an airline customer will fail to make its lease payments and default. AL monitors its customers’ financial health closely. If an airline does become a deadbeat, AL will dispatch a pilot to repossess the plane. Udvar-Hazy and his team have lots of experience in repos from their years at ILFC. They successfully handled numerous industry cycles at ILFC, including the post-9/11 period. AL will, when necessary, repossess and redeploy a plane within days of confirming a potential issue. I believe that AL has, in its admittedly limited history, only repossessed two aircraft. It actually made a profit in both situations. Even in a difficult economy, AL’s management does not expect many repos as its planes are young and fuel-efficient. A struggling airline is more likely to ground an older and more expensive plane.

Industry Influence

Udvar-Hazy has strong influence in the aircraft industry. As one example, airplane manufacturer Airbus actually took out full-page ads in the Los Angeles Times and other newspapers to congratulate him on the founding of Air Lease. Airbus, Boeing, and other manufacturers have great respect for Udvar-Hazy. It is likely that they also have a certain amount of contempt for him. His opinions have great influence among manufacturers, engine makers, and the airlines. The most famous example of this influence occurred in 2006 when Udvar-Hazy (then with ILFC) openly criticized the design of Airbus’ A350 aircraft. His condemnation was so loud that several major airlines joined him in demanding changes to the plane. Airbus, very reluctantly, designed a new version of the A350 at a cost of nearly 10 billion euros. Both the airlines and manufacturers listened to Udvar-Hazy’s concerns because he knows the industry very well and he also, of course, buys a lot of planes.

Udvar-Hazy is known as a very tough negotiator. It is probable that everybody in the airplane industry knows that closing deals with Udvar-Hazy can be very difficult. None of the major aircraft lessors pay list price for planes, but Udvar-Hazy can be counted on to demand the lowest prices. He reportedly receives 25-30% discounts off the list prices for planes. Udvar-Hazy does not go easy on the airlines, either. Although he flies his own plane, Udvar-Hazy once demanded that Southwest Airlines provide free lifetime travel for him and his team (LUV refused). Udvar-Hazy commands respect in the industry because he has been buying planes for 40+ years will continue to do so. He enjoys making deals and has worked with over 200 airlines. One of the reasons that he left ILFC was that he could not buy planes or make many deals while AIG was trying to pay back the government.

Financing

            AL has funded plane purchases with multiple debt offerings. As previously mentioned, AL has only existed for four years. Despite this limited history, the company already has lower unsecured borrowing costs than its competitors. In its first year, AL primarily funded itself with secured debt. Since June, 2011, however, AL has completed multiple financings of unsecured debt. AL completed many of these bond offerings without the benefit of a credit rating. S&P analyst Betsy Snyder has said that AL’s ability to obtain unsecured financing without a rating is “probably unprecedented”. AL did receive its long-awaited rating from S&P in August, 2013. S&P gave AL’s debt an investment grade rating of BBB- (stable). This rating had the immediate effect of reducing AL’s borrowing costs. AL is already one of the highest-rated firms in the industry. S&P liked AL’s diverse portfolio of aircraft and customers. It labeled the company’s risk profile as “satisfactory” despite the capital investment required to buy planes.

            AL has funded itself at very attractive interest rates. Since receiving the investment grade rating from S&P, AL has been able to reduce its borrowing costs. Its last three bond offerings had coupons below 4%. AL issued $1.3 bil. in senior unsecured notes in 2013. Its most recent bond deal was completed earlier this month. In this offering, AL sold $500 mil. in 3.875% unsecured notes that mature in 2021. AL is successfully pushing out the average life of its debt. AL currently has $6.6 bil. in debt. Here is the schedule for the next four bond maturities:

Issue Date       Amt. Outstanding (in $mil.)    Coupon            Maturity

1/11/13           500                                          4.50%              1/15/16

11/8/12           1,132                                       5.625%            4/1/17

7/23/13           200                                          3.875%            12/1/18

11/12/13         700                                          3.375%            1/15/19

            Air Lease has multiple sources of financing. The company targets a 2.5:1 or less debt to equity ratio. AL has primarily financed itself with bond sales, but it has other options. AL’s management says that it currently has $1.8 bil. in liquidity. It has an untapped revolver and a separate warehouse facility. The company targets a fixed-to-floating interest rate debt structure of 70 / 30. The percentage of fixed-rate debt at the end of 2013 was 61.98%, up from 53.88% at the end of 2012. AL’s composite interest rate at the end of 2013 was 3.60%.

Competition

            Air Lease faces competition from numerous other aircraft leasing companies and financial institutions. Airlines often prefer to deal with aircraft lessors over banks and other financial institutions because they have superior knowledge of the industry, planes, and the needs of their customers. There are dozens of companies that lease airplanes. AL is already among the ten-largest in the world. The largest company in the industry by fleet size is a division of GE called GE Capital Aviation Services (GECAS). It owns approximately 1,700 planes. The previously-mentioned merger of ILFC with Netherlands-based AerCap will create the second-largest fleet of approximately 1,300 planes. Other major companies in the industry include CIT, Aviation Capital Group (a division of Pacific Life), BBAM (a division of Babcock & Brown in Australia), AWAS Aviation Capital, and BOC Aviation in China. Most of these companies are expanding their fleets, but at slower rates than Air Lease. ILFC, after several slow years, placed some large plane orders before the AerCap deal was announced. AerCap itself has not actually placed a direct order for planes since 2007, preferring to enter into sale lease-back deals with the airlines. It is now focused on integrating the two fleets.

            The aircraft leasing industry is undergoing a lot of changes. The acquisition of ILFC by AerCap is the most significant recent transaction, but there have been others. One of the largest companies in the industry, SMBC, was sold by Royal Bank of Scotland Group (RBS) to Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Group in 2012. The purchase price was 4.7 billion British pounds. Two of the newest companies in the industry are Jackson Square Aviation and Avolon. Both of these firms, like AL, were founded in 2010 and have experienced rapid growth. Jackson Square was acquired by Mitsubishi UFJ Lease & Finance in 2012 for 100 billion yen ($1.3 billion). The weak yen has encouraged Japanese companies to acquire foreign assets. Avolon owns a fleet of 182 aircraft and is likely to announce an IPO this year.

            Air Lease trades at a premium valuation to other aircraft lessors. Publicly-traded competitors of AL include AerCap (AER), Aircastle (AYR), and FLY Leasing (FLY). FLY is managed and serviced by BBAM. FLY and AYR differ from AL as they are low-growth companies that pay high dividends. Their planes are much older than those of AL. AYR, for example, has a weighted average fleet age of approximately 10 years. AL’s stock trades at a premium valuation to most other aircraft lessors. This premium is justified by AL’s superior growth rate and ability to borrow at lower rates. In recent bond sales, for example, AL was able to sell bonds at an interest rate that was 125 basis points lower than that offered by AYR.

Management Incentives / Stock

            Udvar-Hazy and AL’s other managers are incentivized to increase shareholder value. Udvar-Hazy, like most billionaires, is not shy about demanding generous compensation for himself and his team. One of the reasons, according to reports, that both Udvar-Hazy and Plueger quit ILFC was that AIG restricted bonuses after the federal bailout. Udvar-Hazy was even unhappy that AIG required ILFC employees to economize on airfares rather than fly on customer-leased planes. At any rate, Udvar-Hazy is now the largest shareholder of AL as he beneficially owns approximately 6 million shares. The most recent proxy filing discusses compensation practices in great detail. Compensation, including stock grants and bonuses, is based on total shareholder returns and financial metrics such as revenues, pre-tax operating margin, pre-tax ROE, and other goals. AL completed a secondary offering in November, 2013, in which three pre-IPO investors sold 10.2 mil. shares. AL’s management did not sell any shares in the offering.

Investor Relations

            AL is better known among debt investors than equity investors. Having completed multiple bond offerings, AL is on the radar of many debt investors. AL’s management says that it has successfully replaced high-yield debt buyers with investment-grade debt investors. AL is somewhat less known among equity investors. The company is not financing itself with equity. AL holds conference calls, but has not presented at an investment conference in more than a year. AL currently pays a tiny dividend of $0.03 / quarter. Management indicates that this dividend was instituted to attract retail investors. The vast majority (more than 90%) of AL’s float is currently held by institutional investors. I expect a minimal payout increase over the next few years. The company is focused on buying planes and growing the business. AL’s debt covenants restrict its dividend to no more than 15% of current income.

Most Recent Quarter

            Air Lease reported strong Q4 ’13 results, but management expressed some concerns on the conference call. AL reported GAAP EPS of $0.55, far above the consensus estimate of $0.47. The quarter was aided by a gain on sale of approximately $15 mil. due to the sale of four aircraft and one engine. AL reported its highest-ever pretax margin of 37% in Q4. Revenue increased by 28% and GAAP EPS increased by 45%. Although the quarter was strong, AL’s management did say that it may experience some lease cancellations. AL’s management is concerned that some its customers, especially in China, may have ordered too many planes over the past three years. Chinese airlines have experienced congestion at Asia’s airports, a shortage of pilots, and some changes in traffic patterns. Despite these issues, AL’s management does not believe that it will have any problems in placing or selling planes.

Taxes

            AL does not pay cash taxes and possibly never will. Tax laws allow AL to use accelerated depreciation on its planes. AL can depreciate its planes over 12 years for tax purposes. The company expects to sell its planes when they are seven or eight years old. As with real estate, AL can avoid taxes on sold planes by using the profits to buy new planes. AL recorded a tax expense of $103.0 mil. in 2013, but did not actually pay anything. The company carried a deferred tax liability of $193.3 mil. at 12/31/13. AL also carried $108.7 mil. in federal NOLs and $52.6 mil. in state NOLs at the same date. If AL is ever sold, an acquirer of AL could likely write of the deferred tax liability.

Interest Rate Risk

            Air Lease’s interest rate risk is not as significant as feared by investors. The company’s stock price has, at times, fallen when investors expect an increase in interest rates. An increase in interest rates would increase AL’s cost of funds, but the company’s contracts mitigate this risk. AL’s contracts include interest rate protection clauses which allow for lease rate escalation upon delivery if interest rates have climbed since the contract was signed. The interest rate would then remain fixed for the term of the lease. Still, AL is a heavy borrower and has issued floating-rate debt. The company recognized nearly $200 mil. in interest expense last year. In its 10-K, the company estimates that a 1.0% increase in its composite interest rate would increase its annual interest expense by $22.3 million. A larger concern, perhaps, is that higher interest rates have a negative impact on AL’s customers. Any significant distress among AL’s customers is clearly negative for AL. Despite these concerns, there are actually some positives of a higher interest rate environment.

            AL’s management is extremely experienced in responding to interest rate changes. As previously mentioned, AL’s management has been in this business for a long time. President / COO Plueger has noted that a higher cost of financing aircraft tends to increase demand for leased aircraft. He notes that, “…in the good times airlines need us for our delivery positions, in the bad times they need us for our balance sheets.” AL’s management has also noted that higher interest rates tend to increase the resale value of existing aircraft. Higher interest rates, therefore, may actually reduce the residual value risk in AL’s business. It is clear that AL operates in a capital intensive business and constantly needs to raise capital. A moderate increase in interest rates should not, however, have a major impact on its financials or business.           

Outlook

            AL deserves a premium valuation to competitors as it has superior growth prospects. Airlines are generally moving towards an asset-light model in which they outsource much of the business, planes included. They seek to deleverage their balance sheets. AL’s growth should come from continued increases in demand by airlines for leased, rather than owned, aircraft and the continued expansion of airlines in emerging markets. The strongest annual passenger growth rates will come from the Asia / Pacific market. AL has a young, fuel-efficient, high-utilization fleet. It is certainly true that the airline industry is cyclical, but AL’s management has long experience with these cycles. The aircraft leasing industry, including ILFC, remained profitable throughout the 2008-9 recession.  

Comparison with Peers

            I believe that AL is undervalued and deserving of a premium valuation to peers. Aircraft lessors have historically not received strong valuation multiples. As recently as 2012, AL’s peer group of AYR, AER, and FLY, traded at less than 1.0x BV and a P/Es of around 6. Valuations have improved over the past couple of years. AYR and FLY are cheaper than AL and AER due to their slow growth. Here are some key financials for publicly-traded aircraft lessors:

                                                            AL                    AYR                 FLY                   AER

Stock Price (3/17/14)                          $37.38             $19.33             $15.24             $40.40

# Shares Outstanding (in mil.)            109                 88.8                 41.3                 115                 

Net Debt (in $bil.)                               5.5                   3.0                   2.0                   5.7

EV (in $bil.)                                         9.6                   4.5                   2.4                   10.3

BV / Share                                           $24.78             $20.36             $18.13             $21.32

P / BV                                                  1.25                 0.94                 0.89                 1.80                

P/E (LTM)                                            17.3                 23.9                 9.2                   14.9

P/E (NTM)                                           16.4                 14.4                 12.1                 12.4

EV / Sales                                            10.0                 6.3                   7.2                   9.7

EV / EBIT                                             19.7                 12.6                 16.2                 18.4

EV / EBITDA                                        12.5                 7.0                   8.4                   11.1

Total Debt / EBITDA                            0.68                 0.83                 0.97                 0.62

ROE                                                     7.8%                2.0%                8.2%                12.9%

ROA                                                     2.3%                0.5%                1.5%                2.5%

ROIC                                                    2.6%                0.6%                1.8%                3.5%

Dividend Yield                                     0.30%              4.10%              6.60%              0%

Rev. Growth (last year)                       30.9%              3.2%                -14.6%             8.0%

Rev. Growth (this year)                       23.0%              1.8%                11.5%              221.8%           

Valuation

            There are eleven Street estimates for AL. Most of the analysts have recently raised estimates and price targets. The analysts’ target prices range from $38 to $44. AL has a history of upside surprises. The company’s reported EPS has exceeded estimates in nine of the past eleven quarters. Here is a summary of the current estimates:

                                    ’12                   ’13                   ‘14E                 ‘15E                 ‘16E

EPS (GAAP)                  $1.28               $1.80               $2.27               $2.74               $3.17

EPS (non-GAAP)           $1.52               $2.02               $2.46               $2.92

Revenues (in $mil.)     656                  859                  1,056               1,277               1,343  

EBITDA   (in $mil.)        578                  767                  963                  1,175               1,240

Op. Inc. (in $mil.)        341                  486                  611                  749                  797

Pretax Inc. (in $mil.)   204                  293                  382                  465                  535

BV / Share                   $23.04             $24.82             $26.78             $29.52             $32.92            

PEG                              0.6                   0.6                   0.6                   0.5                   0.4

 

            Air Lease is in a strong position in a strong market. The industry is hot right now and expected to continue to grow. It is expected that leased aircraft as a proportion of the world fleet will grow from 40% to 50% over the next few years. The growth of the airline industry is expected to be roughly 5% / year. AIG’s sale of ILFC to AerCap already looks like a big winner as AER’s stock price as gone straight up since the deal was announced. AL’s stock price is up as well, but I think that it is justified by recent results. As it signs contracts years in advance, Air Lease has strong visibility on its future earnings. My one year target price is $48 (approx. 28% upside). I think that the stock has great potential in the longer-term as well.

            Air Lease will experience strong growth over the next few years. AL is expected to show 2014 year-over-year growth of 23% in revenues, 26% in GAAP EPS, 32% in operating income, and 26% in EBITDA. AL will report a 2014 EBITDA margin of 91.2%, an EBIT margin of 57.9%, and an ROE of 8.5%. Revenues should approach $1.3 billion in 2015, a doubling of revenues in only three years. AL may appear to be expensive on a P/E basis, but recall that the company does not pay cash taxes. It makes more sense to ignore EPS and look at a pre-tax numbers. I estimate that AL will report pre-tax EPS of $3.70 in 2014 and $4.50 in 2015. Based on these estimates, AL is only trading at 8.3x ’15 pre-cash EPS. The ROE, similarly, is higher if tax expense is ignored. AL’s pre-tax ROE should exceed 20% in the near-term.

            AL should trade at a premium to book value. AL trades at approximately 1.4x expected 2014 year-end book value. This P / BV ratio may appear high as many aircraft lessors, including AL, have traded at a less than 1.0x BV. I believe, though, that AL’s book value is understated. The market value of young planes, such as those owned by AL, often exceeds the book value. Many of AL’s competitors are stuck with older, less valuable planes. AL, moreover, has historically sold planes at 10-12% above BV. Whether BV is understated or not, a price target of $48 implies a year-end P / BV of 1.8x. I think that this is a fair multiple for a high-growth company such as Air Lease.

                       

                       

           

 

I do not hold a position of employment, directorship, or consultancy with the issuer.
I and/or others I advise hold a material investment in the issuer's securities.

Catalyst

continued growth, industry trends, exceed estimates
 
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    Description

    Introduction: Air Lease Corporation (symbol: AL) leases airplanes to commercial airlines throughout the world. The CEO of the company, Steven Udvar-Hazy, is regarded as the leading executive in the aircraft leasing industry. Although the company is only four years old, it will generate more than $1 billion in revenues this year.

    Summary: Air Lease (also known as ALC or AL) is a value stock with a lot of growth. The stock price has moved up recently on strong earnings, higher sell-side price targets, and a very successful bond financing. Despite the recent move, I believe that the stock remains undervalued and is headed to $48 in the next year.

    History

                Air Lease is a young company with an extremely experienced management team. The founder and CEO of AL is 68-year old Steven Udvar-Hazy. Udvar-Hazy emigrated to the U.S. from Hungary as a child. Interested in planes from an early age, Udvar-Hazy actually began making airplane deals while a student at UCLA in the 1960s. In 1973, he co-founded the aircraft leasing company that would become International Lease Finance Corporation (ILFC). As aircraft leasing was very rare in the early-70s, Udvar-Hazy is often credited as pioneering the entire industry. ILFC completed an IPO that valued the company at $100 million in 1983. Seven years later, AIG bought ILFC for $1.3 billion. Although wholly-owned by AIG, ILFC continued to operate independently out of its headquarters in Los Angeles and Udvar-Hazy remained as CEO. He left ILFC in 2010 as AIG was recovering from its near-collapse and government rescue.

                Udvar-Hazy founded AL after a contentious exit from ILFC. AIG’s management decided to put debt-laden ILFC up for sale to raise cash to pay off the bailout money. AIG did not receive any attractive bids. Udvar-Hazy led one of the groups that attempted to buy all or part of ILFC’s fleet. His group negotiated with AIG for several months, but the deal was never made. Aside from the fact that he was attempting to build a competitor, Udvar-Hazy was also trying to buy planes cheaply at the bottom of the cycle. When negotiations with AIG broke down in early-2010, Udvar-Hazy retired as CEO of ILFC. His “retirement” did not last long, though, as he founded AL within a few weeks of leaving ILFC. He would not be the last person to leave. Over the next two years, more than two dozen ILFC employees jumped to AL. These employees did not have to jump very far as AL’s Century City headquarters is literally around the block from ILFC. The most notable defection was that of John Plueger, now AL’s President and COO. Plueger actually served as ILFC’s CEO for a few weeks after Udvar-Hazy left. Plueger has worked with Udvar-Hazy for more than 26 years. AL probably has the most experienced and competent management team in the aircraft leasing industry.

                AL got off to a flying (get it?) start in 2010. The company bought its first plane in May of that year. The brand-new company raised $3.3 bil. ($1.3 bil. equity and $2 bil. committed debt) and began to make sale and lease-back deals by July. The equity capital was provided by J.P. Morgan, Commonwealth Bank of Australia, and others. By the end of 2010, AL had leased planes to more than two dozen airlines. Wasting no time, AL raised approximately $758 million in an April, 2011, IPO. The IPO price was $26.50 and the lead underwriters were J.P. Morgan and Credit Suisse. AL owned approximately 46 planes at the time of IPO. Since the IPO, AL has completed multiple debt financings and continued to build its fleet. The company owned approximately 193 planes and had 79 customers at the end of 2013. AL’s rapid growth has not gone unnoticed by Udvar-Hazy’s former employer.

                It will come as no surprise that AIG and AL are now suing each other. AIG got the ball rolling by filing a trade secrets lawsuit in April, 2012. In the suit, AIG alleges that thousands of internal documents concerning contracts, pricing, and marketing have been taken to AL by former ILFC employees. AIG claims that AL was able “to effectively steal a business”, and is seeking hundreds of million in damages. AL denies the allegations and claims that there are no trade secrets in the business anyway. It filed a countersuit against AIG in August, 2013. In this suit, AL claims that AIG / ILFC backed out of a contract to sell 25 planes to the predecessor company of AL in January, 2010. This suit seeks more than $500 million in damages. It appears doubtful that either suit will be resolved any time soon. AL has not taken any reserves against a possible judgment. AIG, by the way, will not own 100% of ILFC for much longer. AIG has agreed to sell ILFC to AerCap. AIG will, however, remain involved as it will become a major shareholder of ILFC when the deal closes.

    The Business

                The airplane leasing business is a relatively straightforward spread business. A new airplane can cost $100 mil. or more. Many airlines have high borrowing costs and little negotiating power with the plane manufacturers. They lease planes to conserve capital and simplify their businesses. Leasing companies, such as AL, are able to lease planes at a profit because they have purchasing power with the plane manufacturers and are able to borrow money at attractive rates. It is very much a relationship-driven industry. AL’s management has very strong ties to the plane manufacturers, finance companies, and airlines. It probably has the greatest number of customer contacts in the industry.

    There is a major trend towards leasing planes by the airlines. The aircraft leasing business did not really exist until 1973 and did not experience strong growth until the 1990s. Now, approximately 40% of the world fleet is leased. Airlines have traditionally financed aircraft purchases with equipment trust certificates or commercial bank loans. These sources of funds have declined since the financial crisis. Some investors view AL and its competitors as finance companies, but they can actually add a lot of value to the airlines. AL has every incentive to help its customers as it needs them to be successful. The lease portfolio produces stable cash flows as long as the customers remain financially secure.

                The second part of the business is the trading of airplanes. One of the reasons that airlines lease, rather than buy, planes is that they want to reduce their residual risk. A commercial plane can operate for 20-25 years, but AL usually sells its planes when they are seven or eight years old.  AL is fortunate in that has a portfolio of young planes. Its average plane is less than four years old. AL’s management has excellent knowledge of the secondary market for planes. The company has an active strategy of selling planes in up cycles and buying them in down cycles. It is difficult to forecast this part of AL’s business as the number of planes sold will vary by quarter and year.

    The Customers / Geography

                Air Lease delivers planes to commercial airlines throughout the world, but focuses on emerging markets. These are triple net leases. AL’s customers include everybody from Air France to Ethiopian Airlines. The company has leased planes to 79 different airlines. AL’s most important markets, by far, are Asia and Europe. The company does surprisingly little business in North America. Udar-Hazy has, at times, criticized the business practices and egomaniac CEOs of the U.S. airlines. It makes sense for AL to focus on emerging markets as they have stronger growth and less access to capital. There is also greater risk in operating in these countries. AL and other lessors are demanding higher lease rates and contract durations from emerging market airlines. Here is a summary of AL’s business by region (from ’13 10-K):

    Region                                                                         % of 2013 Revenue

    Asia / Pacific                                                                          37.6%

    Europe                                                                                  35.9%

    Central & South America / Mexico                                         12.9%

    U.S. / Canada                                                                        6.9%

    Middle East / Africa                                                                6.7%

                Air Lease has an impressive roster of customer contacts throughout the world. Owing to their years at ILFC, AL’s management and staff have relationships with more than 200 airlines in more than 70 countries. While at ILFC, AL’s handful of salespeople placed more than 100 planes per year. The company’s customer base is likely to change as it gets larger. AL will continue to build a blue chip customer base.

    The Planes / Leasing

                AL’s management is extremely knowledgeable about the worldwide plane market. The company owns numerous types of planes, but most are single-aisle, narrow-body planes. Its most important aircraft types are Boeing 737-800 (25.9% of total) and Airbus A320-200 (21.8%). At December 31, 2013, AL’s fleet of 193 planes included 146 narrow-body planes. AL focuses on narrow-body planes as they are the workhorses of the commercial airline business. They are easier to lease and sell than wide-body jets. The weighted average age of AL’s fleet is only 3.7 years. Unlike some competitors, AL is not burdened by an inventory of old planes with little leasing or resale value. AL’s planes are also more fuel-efficient than those of competitors. The demand for fuel-efficient planes is increasing as airlines seek to reduce fuel costs and comply with environmental restrictions.

                The size of AL’s fleet is increasing rapidly. In 2013, AL took delivery of 34 new airplanes and bought six used planes on the secondary market. The size of its fleet increased from 155 planes to 193 planes and the book value of its fleet increased from $6.25 bil. to $7.61 billion. Most of AL’s planes are located in Asia / Pacific (43.6% of fleet BV) and Europe (34.9%). The company will continue to focus on narrow-body jets. Approximately 50% of ordered planes are Boeing 737s.

                AL has long-term leases and places orders for new planes far in advance. As of December 31, 2013, AL had committed to purchasing 327 planes for approximately $27.3 billion. Most of these planes (182) will not be delivered until 2019 or later. Every plane in AL’s current fleet is leased. Most of these leases (72.5%) do not terminate until 2019 or later. The average length of a lease is 7.1 years. AL is committed to purchasing a total of 70 planes in 2014-15 for $4.4 billion. All of these planes are already leased. The company is currently focused on leasing the last few planes that will be delivered in 2016. AL has already leased some of the planes that will be delivered in 2017 and 2018.

                Air Lease has experienced minimal repossessions of its aircraft. There is always the risk that an airline customer will fail to make its lease payments and default. AL monitors its customers’ financial health closely. If an airline does become a deadbeat, AL will dispatch a pilot to repossess the plane. Udvar-Hazy and his team have lots of experience in repos from their years at ILFC. They successfully handled numerous industry cycles at ILFC, including the post-9/11 period. AL will, when necessary, repossess and redeploy a plane within days of confirming a potential issue. I believe that AL has, in its admittedly limited history, only repossessed two aircraft. It actually made a profit in both situations. Even in a difficult economy, AL’s management does not expect many repos as its planes are young and fuel-efficient. A struggling airline is more likely to ground an older and more expensive plane.

    Industry Influence

    Udvar-Hazy has strong influence in the aircraft industry. As one example, airplane manufacturer Airbus actually took out full-page ads in the Los Angeles Times and other newspapers to congratulate him on the founding of Air Lease. Airbus, Boeing, and other manufacturers have great respect for Udvar-Hazy. It is likely that they also have a certain amount of contempt for him. His opinions have great influence among manufacturers, engine makers, and the airlines. The most famous example of this influence occurred in 2006 when Udvar-Hazy (then with ILFC) openly criticized the design of Airbus’ A350 aircraft. His condemnation was so loud that several major airlines joined him in demanding changes to the plane. Airbus, very reluctantly, designed a new version of the A350 at a cost of nearly 10 billion euros. Both the airlines and manufacturers listened to Udvar-Hazy’s concerns because he knows the industry very well and he also, of course, buys a lot of planes.

    Udvar-Hazy is known as a very tough negotiator. It is probable that everybody in the airplane industry knows that closing deals with Udvar-Hazy can be very difficult. None of the major aircraft lessors pay list price for planes, but Udvar-Hazy can be counted on to demand the lowest prices. He reportedly receives 25-30% discounts off the list prices for planes. Udvar-Hazy does not go easy on the airlines, either. Although he flies his own plane, Udvar-Hazy once demanded that Southwest Airlines provide free lifetime travel for him and his team (LUV refused). Udvar-Hazy commands respect in the industry because he has been buying planes for 40+ years will continue to do so. He enjoys making deals and has worked with over 200 airlines. One of the reasons that he left ILFC was that he could not buy planes or make many deals while AIG was trying to pay back the government.

    Financing

                AL has funded plane purchases with multiple debt offerings. As previously mentioned, AL has only existed for four years. Despite this limited history, the company already has lower unsecured borrowing costs than its competitors. In its first year, AL primarily funded itself with secured debt. Since June, 2011, however, AL has completed multiple financings of unsecured debt. AL completed many of these bond offerings without the benefit of a credit rating. S&P analyst Betsy Snyder has said that AL’s ability to obtain unsecured financing without a rating is “probably unprecedented”. AL did receive its long-awaited rating from S&P in August, 2013. S&P gave AL’s debt an investment grade rating of BBB- (stable). This rating had the immediate effect of reducing AL’s borrowing costs. AL is already one of the highest-rated firms in the industry. S&P liked AL’s diverse portfolio of aircraft and customers. It labeled the company’s risk profile as “satisfactory” despite the capital investment required to buy planes.

                AL has funded itself at very attractive interest rates. Since receiving the investment grade rating from S&P, AL has been able to reduce its borrowing costs. Its last three bond offerings had coupons below 4%. AL issued $1.3 bil. in senior unsecured notes in 2013. Its most recent bond deal was completed earlier this month. In this offering, AL sold $500 mil. in 3.875% unsecured notes that mature in 2021. AL is successfully pushing out the average life of its debt. AL currently has $6.6 bil. in debt. Here is the schedule for the next four bond maturities:

    Issue Date       Amt. Outstanding (in $mil.)    Coupon            Maturity

    1/11/13           500                                          4.50%              1/15/16

    11/8/12           1,132                                       5.625%            4/1/17

    7/23/13           200                                          3.875%            12/1/18

    11/12/13         700                                          3.375%            1/15/19

                Air Lease has multiple sources of financing. The company targets a 2.5:1 or less debt to equity ratio. AL has primarily financed itself with bond sales, but it has other options. AL’s management says that it currently has $1.8 bil. in liquidity. It has an untapped revolver and a separate warehouse facility. The company targets a fixed-to-floating interest rate debt structure of 70 / 30. The percentage of fixed-rate debt at the end of 2013 was 61.98%, up from 53.88% at the end of 2012. AL’s composite interest rate at the end of 2013 was 3.60%.

    Competition

                Air Lease faces competition from numerous other aircraft leasing companies and financial institutions. Airlines often prefer to deal with aircraft lessors over banks and other financial institutions because they have superior knowledge of the industry, planes, and the needs of their customers. There are dozens of companies that lease airplanes. AL is already among the ten-largest in the world. The largest company in the industry by fleet size is a division of GE called GE Capital Aviation Services (GECAS). It owns approximately 1,700 planes. The previously-mentioned merger of ILFC with Netherlands-based AerCap will create the second-largest fleet of approximately 1,300 planes. Other major companies in the industry include CIT, Aviation Capital Group (a division of Pacific Life), BBAM (a division of Babcock & Brown in Australia), AWAS Aviation Capital, and BOC Aviation in China. Most of these companies are expanding their fleets, but at slower rates than Air Lease. ILFC, after several slow years, placed some large plane orders before the AerCap deal was announced. AerCap itself has not actually placed a direct order for planes since 2007, preferring to enter into sale lease-back deals with the airlines. It is now focused on integrating the two fleets.

                The aircraft leasing industry is undergoing a lot of changes. The acquisition of ILFC by AerCap is the most significant recent transaction, but there have been others. One of the largest companies in the industry, SMBC, was sold by Royal Bank of Scotland Group (RBS) to Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Group in 2012. The purchase price was 4.7 billion British pounds. Two of the newest companies in the industry are Jackson Square Aviation and Avolon. Both of these firms, like AL, were founded in 2010 and have experienced rapid growth. Jackson Square was acquired by Mitsubishi UFJ Lease & Finance in 2012 for 100 billion yen ($1.3 billion). The weak yen has encouraged Japanese companies to acquire foreign assets. Avolon owns a fleet of 182 aircraft and is likely to announce an IPO this year.

                Air Lease trades at a premium valuation to other aircraft lessors. Publicly-traded competitors of AL include AerCap (AER), Aircastle (AYR), and FLY Leasing (FLY). FLY is managed and serviced by BBAM. FLY and AYR differ from AL as they are low-growth companies that pay high dividends. Their planes are much older than those of AL. AYR, for example, has a weighted average fleet age of approximately 10 years. AL’s stock trades at a premium valuation to most other aircraft lessors. This premium is justified by AL’s superior growth rate and ability to borrow at lower rates. In recent bond sales, for example, AL was able to sell bonds at an interest rate that was 125 basis points lower than that offered by AYR.

    Management Incentives / Stock

                Udvar-Hazy and AL’s other managers are incentivized to increase shareholder value. Udvar-Hazy, like most billionaires, is not shy about demanding generous compensation for himself and his team. One of the reasons, according to reports, that both Udvar-Hazy and Plueger quit ILFC was that AIG restricted bonuses after the federal bailout. Udvar-Hazy was even unhappy that AIG required ILFC employees to economize on airfares rather than fly on customer-leased planes. At any rate, Udvar-Hazy is now the largest shareholder of AL as he beneficially owns approximately 6 million shares. The most recent proxy filing discusses compensation practices in great detail. Compensation, including stock grants and bonuses, is based on total shareholder returns and financial metrics such as revenues, pre-tax operating margin, pre-tax ROE, and other goals. AL completed a secondary offering in November, 2013, in which three pre-IPO investors sold 10.2 mil. shares. AL’s management did not sell any shares in the offering.

    Investor Relations

                AL is better known among debt investors than equity investors. Having completed multiple bond offerings, AL is on the radar of many debt investors. AL’s management says that it has successfully replaced high-yield debt buyers with investment-grade debt investors. AL is somewhat less known among equity investors. The company is not financing itself with equity. AL holds conference calls, but has not presented at an investment conference in more than a year. AL currently pays a tiny dividend of $0.03 / quarter. Management indicates that this dividend was instituted to attract retail investors. The vast majority (more than 90%) of AL’s float is currently held by institutional investors. I expect a minimal payout increase over the next few years. The company is focused on buying planes and growing the business. AL’s debt covenants restrict its dividend to no more than 15% of current income.

    Most Recent Quarter

                Air Lease reported strong Q4 ’13 results, but management expressed some concerns on the conference call. AL reported GAAP EPS of $0.55, far above the consensus estimate of $0.47. The quarter was aided by a gain on sale of approximately $15 mil. due to the sale of four aircraft and one engine. AL reported its highest-ever pretax margin of 37% in Q4. Revenue increased by 28% and GAAP EPS increased by 45%. Although the quarter was strong, AL’s management did say that it may experience some lease cancellations. AL’s management is concerned that some its customers, especially in China, may have ordered too many planes over the past three years. Chinese airlines have experienced congestion at Asia’s airports, a shortage of pilots, and some changes in traffic patterns. Despite these issues, AL’s management does not believe that it will have any problems in placing or selling planes.

    Taxes

                AL does not pay cash taxes and possibly never will. Tax laws allow AL to use accelerated depreciation on its planes. AL can depreciate its planes over 12 years for tax purposes. The company expects to sell its planes when they are seven or eight years old. As with real estate, AL can avoid taxes on sold planes by using the profits to buy new planes. AL recorded a tax expense of $103.0 mil. in 2013, but did not actually pay anything. The company carried a deferred tax liability of $193.3 mil. at 12/31/13. AL also carried $108.7 mil. in federal NOLs and $52.6 mil. in state NOLs at the same date. If AL is ever sold, an acquirer of AL could likely write of the deferred tax liability.

    Interest Rate Risk

                Air Lease’s interest rate risk is not as significant as feared by investors. The company’s stock price has, at times, fallen when investors expect an increase in interest rates. An increase in interest rates would increase AL’s cost of funds, but the company’s contracts mitigate this risk. AL’s contracts include interest rate protection clauses which allow for lease rate escalation upon delivery if interest rates have climbed since the contract was signed. The interest rate would then remain fixed for the term of the lease. Still, AL is a heavy borrower and has issued floating-rate debt. The company recognized nearly $200 mil. in interest expense last year. In its 10-K, the company estimates that a 1.0% increase in its composite interest rate would increase its annual interest expense by $22.3 million. A larger concern, perhaps, is that higher interest rates have a negative impact on AL’s customers. Any significant distress among AL’s customers is clearly negative for AL. Despite these concerns, there are actually some positives of a higher interest rate environment.

                AL’s management is extremely experienced in responding to interest rate changes. As previously mentioned, AL’s management has been in this business for a long time. President / COO Plueger has noted that a higher cost of financing aircraft tends to increase demand for leased aircraft. He notes that, “…in the good times airlines need us for our delivery positions, in the bad times they need us for our balance sheets.” AL’s management has also noted that higher interest rates tend to increase the resale value of existing aircraft. Higher interest rates, therefore, may actually reduce the residual value risk in AL’s business. It is clear that AL operates in a capital intensive business and constantly needs to raise capital. A moderate increase in interest rates should not, however, have a major impact on its financials or business.           

    Outlook

                AL deserves a premium valuation to competitors as it has superior growth prospects. Airlines are generally moving towards an asset-light model in which they outsource much of the business, planes included. They seek to deleverage their balance sheets. AL’s growth should come from continued increases in demand by airlines for leased, rather than owned, aircraft and the continued expansion of airlines in emerging markets. The strongest annual passenger growth rates will come from the Asia / Pacific market. AL has a young, fuel-efficient, high-utilization fleet. It is certainly true that the airline industry is cyclical, but AL’s management has long experience with these cycles. The aircraft leasing industry, including ILFC, remained profitable throughout the 2008-9 recession.  

    Comparison with Peers

                I believe that AL is undervalued and deserving of a premium valuation to peers. Aircraft lessors have historically not received strong valuation multiples. As recently as 2012, AL’s peer group of AYR, AER, and FLY, traded at less than 1.0x BV and a P/Es of around 6. Valuations have improved over the past couple of years. AYR and FLY are cheaper than AL and AER due to their slow growth. Here are some key financials for publicly-traded aircraft lessors:

                                                                AL                    AYR                 FLY                   AER

    Stock Price (3/17/14)                          $37.38             $19.33             $15.24             $40.40

    # Shares Outstanding (in mil.)            109                 88.8                 41.3                 115                 

    Net Debt (in $bil.)                               5.5                   3.0                   2.0                   5.7

    EV (in $bil.)                                         9.6                   4.5                   2.4                   10.3

    BV / Share                                           $24.78             $20.36             $18.13             $21.32

    P / BV                                                  1.25                 0.94                 0.89                 1.80                

    P/E (LTM)                                            17.3                 23.9                 9.2                   14.9

    P/E (NTM)                                           16.4                 14.4                 12.1                 12.4

    EV / Sales                                            10.0                 6.3                   7.2                   9.7

    EV / EBIT                                             19.7                 12.6                 16.2                 18.4

    EV / EBITDA                                        12.5                 7.0                   8.4                   11.1

    Total Debt / EBITDA                            0.68                 0.83                 0.97                 0.62

    ROE                                                     7.8%                2.0%                8.2%                12.9%

    ROA                                                     2.3%                0.5%                1.5%                2.5%

    ROIC                                                    2.6%                0.6%                1.8%                3.5%

    Dividend Yield                                     0.30%              4.10%              6.60%              0%

    Rev. Growth (last year)                       30.9%              3.2%                -14.6%             8.0%

    Rev. Growth (this year)                       23.0%              1.8%                11.5%              221.8%           

    Valuation

                There are eleven Street estimates for AL. Most of the analysts have recently raised estimates and price targets. The analysts’ target prices range from $38 to $44. AL has a history of upside surprises. The company’s reported EPS has exceeded estimates in nine of the past eleven quarters. Here is a summary of the current estimates:

                                        ’12                   ’13                   ‘14E                 ‘15E                 ‘16E

    EPS (GAAP)                  $1.28               $1.80               $2.27               $2.74               $3.17

    EPS (non-GAAP)           $1.52               $2.02               $2.46               $2.92

    Revenues (in $mil.)     656                  859                  1,056               1,277               1,343  

    EBITDA   (in $mil.)        578                  767                  963                  1,175               1,240

    Op. Inc. (in $mil.)        341                  486                  611                  749                  797

    Pretax Inc. (in $mil.)   204                  293                  382                  465                  535

    BV / Share                   $23.04             $24.82             $26.78             $29.52             $32.92            

    PEG                              0.6                   0.6                   0.6                   0.5                   0.4

     

                Air Lease is in a strong position in a strong market. The industry is hot right now and expected to continue to grow. It is expected that leased aircraft as a proportion of the world fleet will grow from 40% to 50% over the next few years. The growth of the airline industry is expected to be roughly 5% / year. AIG’s sale of ILFC to AerCap already looks like a big winner as AER’s stock price as gone straight up since the deal was announced. AL’s stock price is up as well, but I think that it is justified by recent results. As it signs contracts years in advance, Air Lease has strong visibility on its future earnings. My one year target price is $48 (approx. 28% upside). I think that the stock has great potential in the longer-term as well.

                Air Lease will experience strong growth over the next few years. AL is expected to show 2014 year-over-year growth of 23% in revenues, 26% in GAAP EPS, 32% in operating income, and 26% in EBITDA. AL will report a 2014 EBITDA margin of 91.2%, an EBIT margin of 57.9%, and an ROE of 8.5%. Revenues should approach $1.3 billion in 2015, a doubling of revenues in only three years. AL may appear to be expensive on a P/E basis, but recall that the company does not pay cash taxes. It makes more sense to ignore EPS and look at a pre-tax numbers. I estimate that AL will report pre-tax EPS of $3.70 in 2014 and $4.50 in 2015. Based on these estimates, AL is only trading at 8.3x ’15 pre-cash EPS. The ROE, similarly, is higher if tax expense is ignored. AL’s pre-tax ROE should exceed 20% in the near-term.

                AL should trade at a premium to book value. AL trades at approximately 1.4x expected 2014 year-end book value. This P / BV ratio may appear high as many aircraft lessors, including AL, have traded at a less than 1.0x BV. I believe, though, that AL’s book value is understated. The market value of young planes, such as those owned by AL, often exceeds the book value. Many of AL’s competitors are stuck with older, less valuable planes. AL, moreover, has historically sold planes at 10-12% above BV. Whether BV is understated or not, a price target of $48 implies a year-end P / BV of 1.8x. I think that this is a fair multiple for a high-growth company such as Air Lease.

                           

                           

               

     

    I do not hold a position of employment, directorship, or consultancy with the issuer.
    I and/or others I advise hold a material investment in the issuer's securities.

    Catalyst

    continued growth, industry trends, exceed estimates
     

    Messages


    SubjectEV/CMV valuation
    Entry03/18/2014 07:36 PM
    Memberlatticework
    Thanks for the write-up.  A few follow-ups:
     
    Have you done any analysis on current market value (CMV) of the fleets for AL, AYR, FLY, and AER, relative to reported book value?  I think EV/CMV is the proper metric to focus on here, given the recent rise in aircraft values and lease rates relative to what are probably stale book values.  Not sure if you've looked into it, but I would be interested to see a side-by-side comparison of trailing and forward EV/CMV multiples for these players.  Recent and future planned fleet additions/sale activity may have significantly changed the fair market value for these fleets and could give some insight on whether the current P/BV multiples are justified.  
     
    As of 9/30/13, I calculated EV/CMV multiples of ~1x for all of these comps (AL, AYR, and FLY) but there have been some material debt offerings to finance plane purchases since then (for example, FLY recently bought two Boeing 737s for $300mm, albeit they're older planes than AL's ~4yr avg. fleet age), so an adjusted book value analysis is probably necessary to account for the interim plane purchases/sales to date, as well as those that have been explicitly projected by the companies for 2014.
     
    Any thoughts on the above would be helpful.  Thanks again.

    SubjectRE: EV/CMV valuation
    Entry03/18/2014 08:06 PM
    Memberaagold
    Doubtful AL would look too good based on EV/CMV.  Seems like the case for AL over the peers is (a) lower cost of debt and (b) Udvar-Hazy.  Neither of those are reflected in CMV.  So I'd say this clearly isn't a classic "value" play, you'd need to believe that (a) and (b) justify a premium even higher than what the market currently awards AL.
     
    - aagold
     

    SubjectRE: EV/CMV valuation
    Entry03/19/2014 02:20 PM
    MemberUCB1868

    Thanks, cmg90. The best fleet value numbers that I have seen can be found in the Flightglobal report on airline finance. You can download it for free here: http://www.flightglobal.com/products/insight/

    This report values Air Lease’s fleet at 12/31/2013 at $6.85 bil. vs. reported book value of $7.61 billion. On a trailing basis, AYR, FLY, and AER appear to have trailing EV / CMW in the 1.2 – 1.3 range. AL’s trailing EV / CMW is a bit higher at 1.4. AL is expected to buy 35 planes at a cost of $2.3 bil. in 2014. AL’s forward EV / CMW is, therefore, approximately 1.1.


    SubjectRE: RE: EV/CMV valuation
    Entry03/19/2014 03:07 PM
    Memberlatticework
    UCB - thanks very much, looks like a helpful resource.  I'll be sure to check it out.
     
    aagold - I agree with your take-away that the thesis here is predicated largely on best-in-class management and their ability to continue accessing the capital markets at a lower cost of debt than peers.  Also, I like that AL has been putting up solid and improving GAAP ROE numbers, unlike AYR and some of the other peers which continue to struggle hitting their low-teens ROE targets.

    SubjectRE: RE: RE: EV/CMV valuation
    Entry03/19/2014 04:48 PM
    Memberaagold
    Yes, I haven't checked out AL too closely, but I owned AYR for many years and was frustrated at how persistently bad their ROE was.  I guess AYR management got tired of talking about it too, so they changed their metric to "cash ROE" or something like that to make the numbers come out better.
     
    If AL's ROE is better than AYR's, it must be due to their lower cost of debt.  I think the newer planes AL owns earn a lower rental yield than the mid-aged aircraft AYR owns, so AYR's ROA should be better than AL's ROA.  I suppose GAAP depreciation/amortization charges could have something to do with it too; perhaps GAAP accounting treats AL's fleet better than AYR's for some reason.
     
    - aagold
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