Ventas withdraws 2020 guidance, declares quarterly dividend in face of coronavirus uncertainty

As shares of senior living businesses fall under pressure during the coronavirus pandemic, Ventas CEO Debra Cafaro on Monday told CNBC’s Jim Cramer her company is committed to paying the quarterly dividend.

“Because we’re in a strong financial condition and we understand the dividend’s important, our board made a decision to declare the normal dividend and we will continue to be responsible to all of our stakeholders,” she said in a “Mad Money” interview.

Ventas, a real estate investment trust dealing in assisted living communities, medical offices and research centers, on Thursday said its board approved the pay out its regular quarterly dividend of a little more than 79 cents per share next month. The distribution, the first of Ventas’ 2020 annual dividend, will be awarded to investors with a stake in the company as of April 1. The annual dividend totals about $1.2 billion.

Cafaro assured Cramer that Ventas is in “very strong and stable financial condition.” Ventas shares, along with its nursing home REIT peers, have taken a big hit due to the coronavirus pandemic. The coronavirus, which sickens people with the COVID-19 disease, has left older people and others with underlying medical conditions at the most risk.

Stock in Ventas, which had been a slow and steady grower last decade, cratered from about $63 a month ago to near $13 per share last Wednesday, wiping out all its gains since it bottomed at roughly $15 in November 2008 in the midst of the financial crisis. Ventas shares closed Monday’s session at $23, giving it a market value of $8.6 billion.

By comparison, Sienna Senior Living lost more than half its value between Feb. 19 and March 18. Welltower shed more than 73% from its Feb. 18 high before bottoming near $24 per share last Wednesday. While Sienna Senior Living stock remains near its lows trading at $9.37, Welltower since bottomed to close Monday at $43.49 per share.

“I think we want to understand the full range of potential consequences here and there could as you know be an upside surprise in terms of duration, a scientific cure, there’s lots of financial support that’s being provided by policymakers,” Cafaro said.

Though Cafaro painted a picture of strong financial standing, Ventas did, however, withdraw its 2020 guidance and tapped $2.75 billion in credit. Cafaro threw her faith behind Ventas’ “very experienced” management team that guided the firm through cycle busts that followed 9/11 and the financial crisis of the past two decades.

“We have an incredible balance sheet and lots of strength and stability at Ventas,” she said. “That is a factor that, obviously, is among the most important things to to be able to manage successfully trough unprecedented times we’re in now.”

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