Letter to our shareholders
Dr. Wolfgang Zürcher, Chairman
Roland Friederich, CEO/CFO
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The COVID-19 pandemic was an ever-present backdrop to Züblinʼs 2020/21 financial year. Although the economic and political uncertainties resulting from the first lockdown in spring 2020 eased in the second half of the year, the renewed shutdowns at the beginning of 2021 ratcheted up the pressure on affected tenants once again. The small but solid portfolio proved resilient in this challenging market environment thanks to the high quality of its locations and tenants. Our initial assessment of the impact of the pandemic on Züblinʼs business proved to be realistic. Further operational improvements enabled us not just to continue bearing down on administrative expenses, but also to enhance the effectiveness of our asset and property management processes and marketing of vacant space. Overall, Züblin can look back on a satisfactory business year.
Real Estate Portfolio
The total value of the Züblin portfolio amounted to CHF 218.7 million as of March 31, 2021. This represents a slight increase in value during the reporting period of 0.4%. The portfolio continues to comprise six properties: five in the Zurich economic area, one in Bern.
Despite the challenging market environment and the impact of COVID-19, annualized rental income amounted to CHF 8.3 million. Compared to the previous year, the decrease of CHF 1.1 million reflects the expiry of the lease on our second-largest tenant in Zurich Holbeinstrasse, including the amortization component of the tenant fit-out (Mieterausbau). Hence the vacancy rate rose by 7.5% to 15.7%. The WALT at the balance sheet date was 3.8 years, or over 5 years for our five largest tenants.
In general, we are seeing some easing in the rental market, although the uncertainties resulting from the growth in home office working are affecting the letting of office space. A degree of hesitancy is evident among potential tenants, especially with regard to long-term leases. Nevertheless, we were able to close several contracts with prime private tenants and organizations in the cantonal/public administration segment. Furthermore, space optimization measures helped to enhance the attractiveness of our rental offering. Our marketing efforts for the vacant space on Holbeinstrasse have had some initial success. Negotiations on lettings on a floor-to-floor basis to first-class tenants from financial services, consulting and medical practices are well advanced. Parts of the leasable area have also been leased for interim use.
The measures imposed by the authorities to contain the COVID-19 pandemic affected Züblinʼs financial year right from the first lockdown in spring 2020. Viable solutions were agreed with our tenants in the hospitality as well as non-food retail and leisure segments to safeguard their leases in the long term. The rental impact estimated in the first half of 2020/21 proved to be realistic and was unaffected by the second lockdown at the end of the financial year, i.e. it did not exceed the 8% of rental income we had already disclosed.
Züblin achieved a good result in financial year 2020/21, closing the year with a profit of CHF 4.0 million. Continued operational optimization played a key role in limiting the earnings impact of the one-off effect of CHF 1.0 million in the prior year to CHF 0.6 million.
Net operating income decreased slightly by 1.2% year-on-year to CHF 8.3 million (previous year CHF 8.5 million). This was due to lower rental income as a result of a tenant moving out of Holbeinstrasse (CHF 0.2 million) as well as rent reductions in connection with the pandemic-related lockdowns (kCHF 45).
Personnel and organizational measures initiated in the prior year had a positive impact at the operating level. Personnel and administrative expenses were 11.0% (CHF 0.3 million) lower than in 2019/20 at CHF 2.7 million (previous year CHF 3.0 million). Züblin has a lean and flexible organization with a staff of six as of March 31, 2021. The organization proved effective in these times of home offices thanks to its high degree of digitization. The properties have again been managed inhouse by Züblinʼs own staff since January 2021.
The current valuation resulted in a positive change in market value of CHF 0.3 million (previous year CHF 0.2 million). In particular, the CBD located properties in Zurich benefited from the continuing high demand for prime central locations.
The net financial expense amounted to CHF 0.7 million (previous year CHF 0.6 million) and mainly relates to mortgage interest on the revolving credit facility. The increase resulted from one-off effects in the previous year.
The tax expense mainly relates to deferred taxes. A tax provision of 0.3 million was released in the previous year.
Solid balance sheet – LTV below 31%
Total assets amounted to CHF 223.0 million as of March 31, 2021 with a solid equity ratio of 60.0% (previous year 59.1%). The real estate portfolio was valued at CHF 218.7 million at the end of the financial year. Five of the six investment properties are financed with a revolving credit facility of CHF 118.0 million, which expires in September 2022. As of the balance sheet date, CHF 67.0 million of this financing has been drawn, resulting in a loan-to-value ratio (LTV) of 30.6% (previous year 33.4%). At the balance sheet date, Züblin held cash and cash equivalents of CHF 2.2 million. In addition, the AGM has approved additional authorized capital of CHF 37 million to fund the companyʼs future growth.
Züblinʼs operating results and stable financial position mean the Board of Directors is able to maintain its policy of paying a stable dividend, allowing shareholders to participate in the companyʼs operating success. Moreover, the goal of having sufficient funds available for real estate investments at all times to expand the portfolio remains unchanged.
The Board of Directors will propose an unchanged distribution of CHF 1.00 per registered share from the capital reserve to the Annual General Meeting 2021.
Board of Directors and Executive Board
With the election of an additional member at the Extraordinary General Meeting on October 21, 2020, the Board of Directors currently consists of four members. Mr David Schärli represents Züblinʼs second-largest shareholder with a holding of 10.21%. Otherwise, the composition of the Board of Directors remains unchanged.
Züblinʼs lean management and organizational structure, as well as the intensified collaboration between the Board of Directors and Executive Board, enabled the company to successfully navigate the challenges of the demanding financial year 2020/21.
Even though the pandemic has only had a relatively marginal impact on Züblinʼs operating business to date, we expect the 2021/22 financial year to be affected by the ongoing ramifications and social and economic changes it has triggered. However, we expect the economy to steadily recover as the pandemic tails off, enabling our tenants to gradually resume operations and realise their business objectives.
Züblin has set the following operational and strategic goals for the current financial year. We will undertake targeted investments to enhance the attractiveness of our offering and thus continue to increase the value of our properties. In parallel with this, we have a continued focus on expansion, i.e. acquiring investment properties to grow the portfolio. This remains challenging in the ongoing low interest rate/high price market environment, however. Demand for properties in good central locations in Switzerlandʼs main economic centers remains strong. When it comes to growing the portfolio, Züblin is maintaining its relatively conservative investment strategy. We will only invest if our criteria for location, tenant segment and return are met and the investment supports the creation of long-term and sustainable added value for all Züblin stakeholders.
We have all become increasingly aware of the importance of sound partnerships over the past twelve months. We would therefore like to express our thanks not only to our shareholders for their trust, but also to our customers, partners and, of course, our tenants and employees for the valuable, constructive and committed cooperation that has contributed to Züblinʼs good results.
Dr. Wolfgang Zürcher
CEO / CFO