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Rendell follows Schorsch out, as Stanley works turnaround at Am. Realty

New CEO, new chairman

One of the nation's biggest retail landlords says it's turned the page on last year's financial issues and is ready to grow again.

Five months after its shares lost half its value after reporting it had filed false financial statements, American Realty Capital Partners, a real estate investment trust (REIT) and one of the many real estate and investment firms set up by Jenkintown scrap-metal heir-turned-national property mogul Nicholas Schorsch, still controls impressive assets: nearly 5,000 Lowe's building-supply stores, Red Lobster restaurants, CVS pharmacies, Citizens Bank branches, and others, totalling over 100 million square feet. That's more than double all the office space in Center City Philadelphia.

American Realty, based in Phoenix, still trades at a deep discount: Shares are worth just $9 billion, less than half the $20 billion market value of its properties. But the stock has been on the mend, partly recovering from its December low of $7.70, to around $10 in trading last week, still far below its pre-scandal high of $17.82.

The company has taken the steps it needs to prepare for a turnaround, interim chairman William Stanley told investors in a March 30 conference call.

Stanley, a veteran Berwyn-based investment and financial advisor, was tapped by fellow board members to run American Realty in December after Schorsch left the chairman's office and chief executive David Kay resigned, after the company said it would have to restate earnings -- sparking litigation, reports of government investigations, and concern by investors in other Schorsch-founded companies about the potential for conflicts of interest. Schorsch remains an investor and has expressed confidence in his successor managers.

On his watch, Stanley and new chief financial officer Mike Sodo told investors at the March 30 call, the company has:

- Appointed a new chief executive, former Cushman & Wakefield sales chief Glenn Rufrano. (On April 1, the company also announced it had picked Hugh Frater, chairman of Berkadia Corp., to replace the interim Stanley as permanent non-executive chairman.)
- Promised to replace former Pennsyvlania Gov. and Schorsch friend Ed Rendell and another past director, Leslie Michelson, with two new independent directors. (On April 1, the company named Julie Richardson, a former partner at Providence Equity Partners LLC, as one of the replacements. Rendell, who once admiringly compared Schorsch and his American Realty cofounders to brainy "riverboat gamblers," didn't return calls seeking comment on his departure.) 
- Restated earnings and acknowledged 2014 losses totalling $1 billion, partly from writedowns at Cole Capital, American Realty's property-fund brokerage group. 
- Hired new managers for Cole, and convinced broker Charles Schwab and other investment retailers to agree to resume or expand sales efforts for the company's real estate funds.
- Continued buying new assets -- nearly $4 billion in 2014 -- and selling old ones, including a $1.9 billion apartment building porffolio bought by affiliates of the Blackstone Group and its partners in October.

Even as they restated some asset values, auditors made "no material changes" relating to rental revenues or "fundamental business operations," Stanley added. Banks are ready to lend the company up to $3.2 billion, he told investors. 

There are more deals to come: "We are going to re-enter the marketplace pretty vigorously," Stanley promised investors. "Job One is investing the cash and getting the assets fully deployed on behalf of the shareholders." 

Indeed, American Realty has enough cash piled up -- $417 million as of Dec. 31 --that Chris Lucas, an analyst at Capital One Securiites, wanted to know if Stanley is considering paying some to the company's loyal (and suffering) shareholders as a dividend. 

"At some point in time," Stanley told him. "That's why investors buy REITs. We are acutely aware of that." But he said the decision on what to do with all that "dry powder" properly belongs to Rufrano, as American Realty's new boss.