SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION
Washington, D.C. 20549
☑ ANNUAL REPORT PURSUANT TO SECTION 13 OR 15(d) OF THE
SECURITIES EXCHANGE ACT OF 1934
For The Fiscal Year Ended December 31, 2020
☐ TRANSITION REPORT PURSUANT TO SECTION 13 OR 15(d) OF THE
SECURITIES EXCHANGE ACT OF 1934
VECTOR GROUP LTD.
(Exact name of registrant as specified in its charter)
|(State or other jurisdiction of incorporation|
incorporation or organization)
|Commission File Number||(I.R.S. Employer Identification No.)|
4400 Biscayne Boulevard
Miami, Florida 33137
(Address, including zip code and telephone number, including area code,
of the principal executive offices)
Securities registered pursuant to Section 12(b) of the Act:
|Title of each class:||Trading Symbol(s)||Name of each exchange on which registered:|
|Common stock, par value $0.10 per share||VGR||New York Stock Exchange|
Securities registered pursuant to Section 12(g) of the Act: None
Indicate by check mark if the Registrant is a well-known seasoned issuer, as defined in Rule 405 of the Securities Act. þ Yes o No
Indicate by check mark if the Registrant is not required to file reports pursuant to Section 13 or Section 15(d) of the Exchange Act. o Yes þ No
Indicate by check mark whether the Registrant (1) has filed all reports required to be filed by Section 13 or 15(d) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended (the “Exchange Act”), during the preceding 12 months (or for such shorter period that the Registrant was required to file such reports), and (2) has been subject to such filing requirements for the past 90 days. þ Yes o No
Indicate by check mark whether the Registrant has submitted electronically every Interactive Data File required to be submitted pursuant to Rule 405 of Regulation S-T (§ 232.405 of this chapter) during the preceding 12 months (or for such shorter period that the registrant was required to submit such files). þ Yes o No
Indicate by check mark whether the Registrant is a large accelerated filer, an accelerated filer, or a non-accelerated filer. See definition of “accelerated filer and large accelerated filer” in Rule 12b-2 of the Exchange Act.
|☑||Large accelerated filer||☐||Accelerated filer||☐||Non-accelerated filer||☐||Smaller reporting company||☐||Emerging Growth Company|
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant has filed a report on and attestation to its management’s assessment of the effectiveness of its internal control over financial reporting under Section 404(b) of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (15 U.S.C. 7262(b)) by the registered public accounting firm that prepared or issued its audit report. ☑
Indicate by check mark whether the Registrant is a shell company as defined in Rule 12b-2 of the Exchange Act. ☐ Yes þ No
The aggregate market value of the common stock held by non-affiliates of Vector Group Ltd. as of June 30, 2020 was approximately $1.43 billion.
At February 26, 2021, Vector Group Ltd. had 154,194,629 shares of common stock outstanding.
DOCUMENTS INCORPORATED BY REFERENCE:
Part III (Items 10, 11, 12, 13 and 14) from the definitive Proxy Statement for the 2021 Annual Meeting of Stockholders to be filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission no later than 120 days after the end of the Registrant’s fiscal year covered by this report.
VECTOR GROUP LTD.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
ITEM 1. BUSINESS
Vector Group Ltd., a Delaware corporation, is a holding company and is engaged principally in two business segments:
•Tobacco: the manufacture and sale of cigarettes in the United States through our Liggett Group LLC (“Liggett”) and Vector Tobacco Inc. (“Vector Tobacco”) subsidiaries, and
•Real Estate: the real estate services, technology and investment business through our subsidiary New Valley LLC (“New Valley”), which (i) owns Douglas Elliman Realty, LLC (“Douglas Elliman”), (ii) has interests in numerous real estate projects across the United States and (iii) is seeking to acquire or invest in additional real estate services, technologies, properties or projects. Douglas Elliman operates the largest residential brokerage company in the New York metropolitan area and also conducts residential real estate brokerage operations in Florida, California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Colorado, New Jersey and Texas.
Our strategy is to maximize stockholder value by increasing the profitability of our subsidiaries in the following ways:
Liggett and Vector Tobacco
•Continue to offer an excellent value proposition in the U.S. cigarette industry by consistently delivering high quality products within the discount segment;
•Capitalize on our tobacco subsidiaries’ cost advantage in the United States cigarette market due to the favorable treatment that they receive under the Master Settlement Agreement (“MSA”);
•Focus marketing and selling efforts on the discount segment, continue to build volume and margin in core discount brands (Eagle 20’s, Pyramid, Montego, Grand Prix, Liggett Select and Eve) and utilize core brand equity to selectively build distribution;
•Selectively expand the portfolio of partner brands and private label brands utilizing a pricing strategy that offers long-term price stability for customers;
•Increase operational efficiency by developing and adopting an organizational structure to maximize profit potential; and
•Identify, develop and launch relevant new tobacco products to the market in the future.
•Continue to grow Douglas Elliman’s operations by utilizing its strong brand name recognition and pursuing strategic and financial opportunities, including entry into new markets and expanding ancillary services, which are complementary to Douglas Elliman’s core residential brokerage business, offered to Douglas Elliman’s customers;
•Identifying and investing in property technology (“PropTech”) opportunities that, in addition to maximizing stockholder value, will supplement and enhance the technology-based experience of Douglas Elliman’s agents as well as create synergies to reduce operating expenses at Douglas Elliman;
•Continue to leverage our expertise as direct investors by actively pursuing real estate investments, including PropTech opportunities, in the United States and abroad; and
•Invest our excess funds opportunistically in real estate situations that we believe can maximize stockholder value.
General. Our Tobacco segment operates through our two subsidiaries, Liggett and Vector Tobacco. Liggett is the operating successor to Liggett & Myers Tobacco Company, which was founded in 1873. Vector Tobacco is a discount cigarette manufacturer selling product in the deep discount category. In this report, certain references to “Liggett” refer to our tobacco operations, including the business of Liggett and Vector Tobacco, unless otherwise specified.
For the year ended December 31, 2020, Liggett was the fourth-largest manufacturer of cigarettes in the United States in terms of unit sales. Liggett’s manufacturing facilities are located in Mebane, North Carolina where it manufactures most of
Vector Tobacco’s cigarettes pursuant to a contract manufacturing agreement. At present, Liggett and Vector Tobacco have no foreign operations.
The U.S. cigarette market consists of premium cigarettes, which are generally marketed under well-recognized brand names at higher retail prices to adult smokers with a strong preference for branded products, and discount cigarettes, which are marketed at lower retail prices to adult smokers who are more value conscious. In recent years, however, the discounting of premium cigarettes has become far more significant in the marketplace. Since 2004, Liggett has only produced discount cigarettes and all of Liggett’s units sold in 2020, 2019 and 2018 were in the discount segment.
According to data from Management Science Associates, Inc., the discount segment represented 28.6% of the total U.S. cigarette market in 2020 compared to 28.3% in 2019 and 27.7% in 2018. Liggett’s domestic shipments of approximately 9.2 billion cigarettes during 2020 accounted for 4.1% of the total cigarettes shipped in the United States during such year. Liggett’s market share was 4.1% in 2020, 4.0% in 2019 and 4.0% in 2018. According to Management Science Associates, Liggett held a share of approximately 14.2% of the overall discount market segment for 2020 compared to 14.3% for 2019 and 14.3% for 2018.
Liggett produces cigarettes in approximately 100 combinations of length, style and packaging. Liggett’s current brand portfolio includes:
•Eagle 20’s — a brand positioned in the deep discount segment for long-term growth re-launched as a national brand in 2013; Eagle 20’s represented 62.0% of Liggett’s unit volume in 2020, 59.9% in 2019 and 53.5% in 2018. Eagle 20’s is the largest seller in Liggett’s family of brands,
•Pyramid — the industry’s first deep discount product with a brand identity re-launched in the second quarter of 2009; Pyramid represented 23.2% of Liggett’s unit volume in 2020, 26.5% in 2019 and 32.5% in 2018,
•Montego — In August 2020, Liggett expanded the distribution of its Montego deep discount brand by 10 states, primarily located in the southeast. Prior to August 2020, Montego was sold in select targeted markets in four states.
•Grand Prix — re-launched as a national brand in 2005,
•Liggett Select — a discount category brand originally launched in 1999,
•Eve — a 120-millimeter cigarette in the branded discount category, and
•USA and various partner brands and private label brands.
Under the Master Settlement Agreement (“MSA”) reached in November 1998 with 46 states and various territories, cigarette manufacturers selling product in the U.S. must make settlement payments to the states and territories based on how many cigarettes they sell annually. Liggett, however, is not required to make any payments unless its market share exceeds its grandfathered market share established under the MSA of approximately 1.65% of the U.S. cigarette market. Additionally, Vector Tobacco has no payment obligation unless its market share exceeds approximately 0.28% of the U.S. cigarette market. We believe our tobacco subsidiaries have gained a sustainable cost advantage over their competitors as a result of the settlement.
Liggett’s and Vector Tobacco’s payments under the MSA are based on each respective company’s incremental market share above the grandfathered market share applicable to each respective company. Thus, if Liggett’s total market share is 3%, its MSA payment is based on 1.35%, which is the difference between Liggett’s total market share of 3% and its approximate applicable grandfathered market share of 1.65%. We anticipate that both Liggett’s and Vector Tobacco’s payment exemptions will be fully utilized for the foreseeable future.
The source of industry data in this report is Management Science Associates, Inc., an independent third-party data management organization that collects wholesale and retail shipment data from various cigarette manufacturers and distributors and provides analysis of market share unit sales volume for individual companies and the industry as a whole. Management Science Associates, Inc.’s information relating to unit sales volume and market share of certain smaller, primarily deep discount, cigarette manufacturers is based on estimates developed by Management Science Associates, Inc.
Business Strategy. Liggett’s business strategy is to capitalize on its cost advantage in the United States cigarette market resulting from the favorable treatment our tobacco subsidiaries receive under our settlement agreements with the states and territories. Liggett’s long-term business strategy is to build incremental value by ensuring its product management efforts provide superior products in the discount market and focusing its marketing and selling efforts on building volume and margin in its core discount brands (Eagle 20’s, Pyramid, Montego, Grand Prix, Liggett Select and Eve) and to utilize its core brand equity to selectively build distribution. Liggett will continue to seek increases in efficiency by developing and adapting its organizational structure to maximize profit potential.
Sales, Marketing and Distribution. Liggett’s products are distributed from a central distribution center in Mebane, North Carolina to 15 public warehouses located throughout the United States by third-party trucking companies. These warehouses serve as local distribution centers for Liggett’s customers.
Liggett’s customers are primarily wholesalers and distributors of tobacco and convenience products as well as large grocery, drug and convenience store chains. Two customers accounted for 18% and 12% of Liggett’s revenues in 2020, 17% and 12% of Liggett’s revenues in 2019, and 18% and 12% of Liggett’s revenues in 2018. Concentrations of credit risk with respect to trade receivables are generally limited due to Liggett’s large number of customers. Liggett’s two largest customers, represented approximately 5% and 4%, respectively, of net accounts receivable at December 31, 2020, 2% and 4%, respectively, at December 31, 2019, and 11% and 4%, respectively, at December 31, 2018. Ongoing credit evaluations of customers’ financial condition are performed and, generally, no security is required. Liggett maintains appropriate reserves for potential credit losses and such losses, in the aggregate, have not exceeded management’s expectations.
Trademarks. All of the major trademarks used by Liggett are federally registered or are in the process of being registered in the United States and other markets. Trademark registrations typically have a duration of ten years and can be renewed at Liggett’s option prior to their expiration date.
In view of the significance of cigarette brand awareness among consumers, management believes that the protection afforded by these trademarks is material to the conduct of its business. These trademarks are pledged as collateral for certain of our senior secured debt.
Manufacturing. Liggett purchases and maintains leaf tobacco inventory to support its cigarette manufacturing requirements. Liggett believes that there is a sufficient worldwide supply of tobacco to satisfy its current production requirements. Liggett stores its leaf tobacco inventory in warehouses in North Carolina and Virginia. There are several different types of leaf tobacco, including flue-cured, burley, Maryland, oriental, cut stems and reconstituted sheet. Leaf components of American-style cigarettes are generally the flue-cured and burley tobaccos. While premium and discount brands use many of the same tobacco products, input ratios of these products may vary between premium and discount products. Liggett purchases its tobacco requirements from both domestic and foreign leaf dealers, much of it under long-term purchase commitments. As of December 31, 2020, the majority of Liggett’s commitments were for the purchase of foreign tobacco.
Liggett’s cigarette manufacturing facility was designed for the execution of short production runs in a cost-effective manner, which enables Liggett to manufacture and market approximately 100 different cigarette brand styles. Liggett’s facility produced approximately 8.9 billion cigarettes in 2020, but maintains the capacity to produce approximately 17.4 billion cigarettes per year. Vector Tobacco has contracted with Liggett to produce most of its cigarettes at Liggett’s manufacturing facility in Mebane.
Competition. Liggett’s competition is divided into two segments. The first segment consists of the three largest manufacturers of cigarettes in the United States: Philip Morris USA Inc. (“Philip Morris”), which is owned by Altria Group, Inc., RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company (“RJ Reynolds”), which is owned by British American Tobacco Plc, and ITG Brands LLC, which is owned by Imperial Brands Plc. These three manufacturers, while primarily premium cigarette-based companies, also produce and sell discount cigarettes. The second segment of competition is comprised of a group of smaller manufacturers and importers, most of which sell deep discount cigarettes.
Historically, there have been substantial barriers to entry into the cigarette business, including extensive distribution organizations, large capital outlays for sophisticated production equipment, substantial inventory investment, costly promotional spending, regulated advertising and, for premium brands, strong brand loyalty. However, after the MSA was signed, some smaller manufacturers and importers that are not parties to the MSA (“Non-Participating Manufacturers”) were able to overcome these competitive barriers due to an unintended cost advantage resulting from the MSA. These Non-Participating Manufacturers were subsequently impacted by the state statutes enacted pursuant to the MSA; however, these companies still have significant market share in the aggregate through competitive discounting in this segment.
In the cigarette business, Liggett competes on dual fronts. Philip Morris and RJ Reynolds compete among themselves for premium brand market share based on advertising, promotional activities, trade rebates and incentives. They compete with Liggett and others for discount market share, primarily on the basis of price and in store merchandising. These competitors have substantially greater financial resources than Liggett, and most of their brands have greater sales and consumer recognition than Liggett’s products. Liggett’s discount brands must also compete in the marketplace with the smaller manufacturers’ and importers’ deep discount brands.
According to Management Science Associates Inc.’s data, the unit sales of Philip Morris and RJ Reynolds accounted in the aggregate for 74% of the domestic cigarette market in 2020. Liggett’s domestic shipments of approximately 9.2 billion cigarettes during 2020 accounted for 4.1% of the approximately 226 billion cigarettes shipped in the United States, compared to 9.0 billion cigarettes in 2019 (4.0%) and 9.4 billion cigarettes in 2018 (4.0%).
From 2015 to 2019, industry-wide shipments of cigarettes in the United States declined at a compounded rate of 3.4% per annum, however, according to Management Science Associates Inc.’s data, domestic industry-wide shipments increased by 1.5% (approximately 3.4 billion units) in 2020. Despite this increase, which Liggett’s management believes was the result of increased consumer demand related to changes in underlying cigarette purchasing patterns associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, Liggett’s management believes that industry-wide shipments of cigarettes in the United States will continue to decline as a result of numerous factors. These factors include health considerations, diminishing social acceptance of smoking, and a wide variety of federal, state and local laws limiting smoking in public places, as well as increases in federal and state excise taxes and settlement-related expenses which have contributed to higher cigarette prices in recent years.
Philip Morris and RJ Reynolds dominate the domestic cigarette market, controlling approximately 74% of the U.S. cigarette market in 2020, which makes it more difficult for Liggett to compete for shelf space in retail outlets and could impact price competition in the market, either of which could have a material adverse effect on its sales volume, operating income and cash flows.
Historically, because of their dominant market share, Philip Morris and RJ Reynolds, the two largest cigarette manufacturers, have been able to determine cigarette prices for the various pricing tiers within the industry. Market pressures have historically caused other cigarette manufacturers to bring their prices in line with the levels established by these two major manufacturers. Off-list price discounting and similar promotional activity by manufacturers, however, has substantially affected the average price differential at retail, which can be significantly less than the manufacturers’ list price gap. In addition, in recent years, the discount segment has experienced increased price competition from smaller manufacturers and this has led to more aggressive price discounting of certain “deep discount” brands when compared to “traditional discount” brands. Consequently, changes in the price gap of products at retail between “deep discount” and “traditional discount” has led to shifts in price segment performance.
Legislation and Regulation
In the United States, tobacco products are subject to substantial and increasing legislation, regulation, taxation, and litigation, which have a negative effect on revenue and profitability.
The cigarette industry continues to be challenged on numerous fronts. The industry faces increased pressure from anti-smoking groups and continued smoking and health litigation, the effects of which, at this time, we are unable to quantify. Product liability litigation, particularly in Florida in the Engle progeny cases, continues to adversely affect the cigarette industry. See Item 1A. “Risk Factors”, Item 3. “Legal Proceedings” and Note 15 to our consolidated financial statements, which contain a description of litigation.
The harmful physical effects of cigarette smoking have been publicized for many years and, in the opinion of Liggett’s management, have had and will continue to have an adverse effect on cigarette sales. Since 1964, the Surgeon General of the United States and the Secretary of Health and Human Services have released a number of reports stating that cigarette smoking is a causative factor with respect to a variety of health hazards, including certain cancers and heart and lung disease and have recommended various government actions to reduce the incidence of smoking. In 1997, Liggett publicly acknowledged that, as the Surgeon General and respected medical researchers have found, smoking causes health problems, including lung cancer, heart and vascular disease, and emphysema.
On June 22, 2009, the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act (the “TCA”) became law. The law grants the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) broad authority over the manufacture, sale, marketing and packaging of tobacco products, although FDA is prohibited from banning all cigarettes or all smokeless tobacco products. Among other measures, the law (under various deadlines):
•requires FDA to develop graphic warnings for cigarette packages and grants FDA authority to require new warnings;
•imposes new restrictions on the sale and distribution of tobacco products, including significant new restrictions on tobacco product advertising and promotion, as well as the use of brand and trade names;
•bans the use of “light,” “mild,” “low” or similar descriptors on tobacco products;
•bans the use of “characterizing flavors” in cigarettes other than tobacco or menthol;
•gives FDA the authority to impose tobacco product standards that are appropriate for the protection of the public health (by, for example, requiring reduction or elimination of the use of particular constituents or components, requiring product testing, or addressing other aspects of tobacco product construction, constituents, properties or labeling);
•requires manufacturers to obtain FDA review and authorization for the marketing of certain new or modified tobacco products which could ultimately result in FDA prohibiting Liggett from selling certain of its products;
•requires pre-market approval by FDA for tobacco products represented (through labels, labeling, advertising, or other means) as presenting a lower risk of harm or tobacco-related disease;
•requires manufacturers to report ingredients and harmful constituents and requires FDA to disclose certain constituent information to the public;
•mandates that manufacturers test and report on ingredients and constituents identified by FDA as requiring such testing to protect the public health and allows FDA to require the disclosure of testing results to the public;
•requires manufacturers to submit to FDA certain information regarding the health, toxicological, behavioral or physiological effects of tobacco products;
•requires FDA to establish “good manufacturing practices” to be followed at tobacco manufacturing facilities;
•authorizes FDA to require the reduction of nicotine (although it may not require the reduction of nicotine yields of a tobacco product to zero) and the potential reduction or elimination of other constituents, including menthol;
•imposes (and allows FDA to impose) various recordkeeping and reporting requirements on tobacco product manufacturers; and
•grants FDA broad regulatory authority to impose additional restrictions.
The TCA imposes user fees on certain tobacco product manufacturers in order to fund tobacco-related FDA activities. User fees are allocated among tobacco product classes according to a formula set out in the statute, and then among manufacturers and importers within each class based on market share. FDA user fees for 2020 were $24,842 for Liggett and Vector Tobacco combined and will likely increase in the future.
The law also required establishment of a Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee (“TPSAC”) to provide advice, information and recommendations with respect to safety, dependence and health issues related to tobacco products.
Menthol and Flavorings
TPSAC completed its review of the use of menthol in cigarettes and issued a report with recommendations to FDA in March 2011. The report stated that “removal of menthol cigarettes from the marketplace would benefit public health in the United States,” but did not expressly recommend that FDA ban menthol cigarettes. In July 2013, FDA made available its preliminary scientific evaluation (“PSE”) of public health issues related to the use of menthol in cigarettes, in which it concluded that menthol cigarettes likely pose a public health risk above that seen with non-menthol cigarettes. FDA also issued and accepted public comment on an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“ANPR”) seeking input related to potential regulatory options it might consider in determining what future regulatory action, if any, it believes is warranted. A decision by FDA to ban menthol in tobacco products could have a material adverse effect on us. In July 2014, the federal district court for the District of Columbia ruled on cross-motions for summary judgment in a lawsuit brought by several cigarette manufacturers against FDA challenging the composition of the TPSAC. The district court granted, in part, the manufacturers’ motion for summary judgment, ordering FDA to reconstitute the TPSAC and barring the agency from relying in any manner on the March 2011 TPSAC report on menthol. FDA appealed the decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. In January 2016, the D.C. Circuit vacated the district court’s decision due to the manufacturers’ lack of standing and lifted the prohibition on FDA relying on the March 2011 TPSAC report. The D.C. Circuit’s decision does not preclude future challenges if FDA ultimately relies on the March 2011 TPSAC report to restrict or ban menthol in cigarettes.
In July 2017, FDA announced a comprehensive plan for Tobacco and Nicotine Regulation. As part of this comprehensive plan, FDA announced its intent to issue an ANPR requesting public stakeholder input on the impact of flavors (including menthol) on increased initiation among youth and young adults, as well as assisting adult smokers to switch to potentially less harmful forms of nicotine delivery. In 2020, approximately 19% of our cigarette unit sales were menthol flavored. FDA issued this ANPR on March 21, 2018, seeking comments, data, research results, or other information about, among other things, how flavors attract youth to initiate tobacco product use and about whether and how certain flavors may help adult cigarette smokers reduce cigarette use and switch to potentially less harmful products. In the ANPR, FDA stated that potential regulatory actions include, but are not limited to, tobacco product standards and restrictions on the sale and distribution of tobacco products with flavors. We cannot predict how a tobacco product standard or a restriction on the sale and distribution of tobacco products with menthol, if ultimately issued by FDA, will impact product sales, whether it will have a material adverse effect on Liggett or Vector Tobacco, or whether it will impact Liggett and Vector Tobacco to a greater degree than other companies in the industry.
In December 2019, Massachusetts enacted a ban on the sale of menthol cigarettes effective June 1, 2020. Although certain municipalities throughout the United States have banned the sale of menthol cigarettes, Massachusetts is the first state to do so. We cannot predict how the menthol ban in Massachusetts will impact product sales, whether it will have a material adverse effect on Liggett or Vector Tobacco, or whether it will impact Liggett and Vector Tobacco to a greater degree than
other companies in the industry. We also cannot predict whether other states will enact similar bans on the sale of menthol cigarettes.
Minimum Age of Sale for Tobacco Products
On December 20, 2019, President Trump signed into law the Tobacco-Free Youth Act, increasing the national age of sale for tobacco products from 18 to 21 years of age. The law took effect immediately. We cannot predict how the change in the minimum age of sale will impact product sales, whether it will have a material adverse effect on Liggett or Vector Tobacco, or whether it will impact Liggett and Vector Tobacco to a greater degree than other companies in the industry.
Advertising and Warnings on Packaging
The TCA imposes significant new restrictions on the advertising and promotion of tobacco products. For example, as required under the law, FDA reissued certain regulations previously issued in 1996 (which were struck down by the Supreme Court in 2000 as beyond FDA’s then authority). Subject to limitations imposed by a federal injunction (discussed below), these regulations took effect on June 22, 2010. As written, these regulations significantly limit the ability of manufacturers, distributors and retailers to advertise and promote tobacco products, by, for example, restricting the use of color and graphics in advertising, limiting the use of outdoor advertising, restricting the sale and distribution of non-tobacco items and services, gifts, and sponsorship of events, and imposing restrictions on the use for cigarette or smokeless tobacco products of trade or brand names that are used for nontobacco products.
In August 2009, several cigarette manufacturers filed a federal lawsuit against FDA challenging the constitutionality of a number of the restrictions imposed by the TCA, including the ban on color and graphics in advertising, the color graphic and non-graphic warning label requirement, limits on the right to make truthful statements regarding modified risk tobacco products, restrictions on the placement of outdoor advertising, and the ban on the distribution of product samples. In March 2012, a federal appellate court let stand many of the advertising and promotion restrictions, but held that the ban on the use of color and graphics in advertising was unconstitutional.
In April 2010, a number of cigarette manufacturers filed a federal lawsuit challenging the TCA restrictions on trade or brand names based upon First Amendment and other grounds. In May 2010, FDA issued a guidance document indicating that FDA was aware of concerns regarding the trade and brand name restrictions and while the agency was considering the matter, it intended to exercise its enforcement discretion and not commence trade or brand name enforcement actions for the duration of its consideration where: (1) the trade or brand name of the cigarettes or smokeless tobacco product was registered, or the product was marketed, in the United States on or before June 22, 2009; or (2) the first marketing or registration in the United States of the tobacco product occurs before the first marketing or registration in the United States of the non-tobacco product bearing the same name; provided, however, that the tobacco and non-tobacco product are not owned, manufactured, or distributed by the same, related, or affiliated entities (including as a licensee). The lawsuit was stayed by agreement of the parties. In November 2011, FDA issued a proposal to amend its trade name restrictions and, in November 2013, the lawsuit was dismissed. FDA’s proposal remains under consideration. We cannot predict the future impact of the proposed amendment.
On March 18, 2020, FDA issued a final rule to require new health warnings on cigarette packages and in cigarette advertisements. This rule requires each cigarette package and advertisement to bear one of eleven textual warning statements accompanied by a corresponding graphic image covering 50% of the area of the front and rear panels of cigarette packages and at least 20% of the area at the top of cigarette advertisements. The rule establishes marketing requirements that include the random and equal display and distribution of the required warnings for cigarette packages and quarterly rotation of the required warnings for cigarette advertisements. The final rule provided for an effective date of June 18, 2021, 15 months after issuance of the final rule. The inclusion of new warnings and rotation requirements pursuant to the final rule would likely increase Liggett’s production costs. On April 3, 2020, Liggett, along with other tobacco companies, commenced an action against the FDA in the United States District Court, District of Texas (Tyler Division) challenging the legality of the graphic warning final rule. On May 8, 2020, the court issued an updated scheduling order and granted a joint motion to postpone the effective date of the final rule by 120 days to October 16, 2021. On December 2, 2020, the court granted a motion by the plaintiffs to postpone the effective date by an additional 90 days to January 14, 2022.
We cannot predict whether the court will delay the effective date and/or determine that some or all of the proposed textual and/or graphic warnings, or proposed prominence of the warnings, violate the First Amendment, Administrative Procedure Act, or other legal requirements, or what the impact of such a court ruling will have on the compliance timeline or requirements imposed on industry.
FDA requires each tobacco manufacturer to submit a plan providing for the random and equal display and distribution of the required warnings on cigarette packaging and the quarterly rotation of the required warnings in cigarette advertising. FDA
must review and approve the plan prior to implementation. Liggett and Vector Tobacco have each submitted a plan to FDA and the plans are currently under review. We cannot predict whether FDA will approve the plans or the timing of FDA’s decisions.
The TCA requires premarket review of “new tobacco products.” A “new tobacco product” is one that was not commercially marketed in the United States as of February 15, 2007 or that was modified after that date. In general, before a company may commercially market a “new tobacco product,” it must either (a) submit an application and obtain an order from FDA permitting the product to be marketed; or (b) submit an application and receive an FDA order finding the product to be “substantially equivalent” to a “predicate” tobacco product that was commercially marketed in the U.S. as of February 15, 2007. A “substantially equivalent” tobacco product is one that has the “same characteristics” as the predicate or one that has “different characteristics” but does not raise “different questions of public health.”
Manufacturers of products first introduced after February 15, 2007 and before March 22, 2011 who submitted a substantial equivalence application to FDA prior to March 23, 2011 may continue to market the tobacco product unless FDA issues an order that the product is not substantially equivalent (“NSE”). Failure to timely submit the application, or FDA’s conclusion that such a “new tobacco product” is not substantially equivalent, will cause the product to be deemed misbranded and/or adulterated. After March 22, 2011, a “new tobacco product” may not be marketed without an FDA substantial equivalence determination. Prior to the deadline, Liggett and Vector Tobacco submitted substantial equivalence applications to FDA for each of their respective cigarette brand styles.
To date, Liggett has received NSE orders relating to 20 cigarette brand styles. With respect to the first six NSE orders, Liggett discontinued the cigarette brand styles subject to the orders. Sales of these discontinued cigarette brand styles were de minimis. With respect to NSE orders issued in September 2017 relating to 14 cigarette brand styles, Liggett has elected to pursue administrative appeals with FDA. Sales of these 14 cigarette brand styles accounted for approximately 0.7% of the tobacco segment’s annual revenue in 2020. Liggett is continuing to sell the affected cigarette brand styles during the administrative appeal process. Vector Tobacco received NSE orders relating to three cigarette brand styles in November 2017. Sales of these three cigarette brand styles accounted for approximately 0.4% of the tobacco segment’s annual revenue in 2020. Vector Tobacco elected to pursue administrative appeals with FDA and is continuing to sell the affected cigarette brand styles during the administrative appeal process. There can be no assurance as to the timing or outcome of these appeals and adverse decisions on the appeals could require these cigarettes or other cigarette styles to be removed from the market.
On April 5, 2018, FDA announced a change in its process for reviewing “provisional” substantial equivalence applications. These are the substantial equivalence applications for the subset of tobacco products introduced into commercial distribution after February 15, 2007 and before March 22, 2011, that were permitted to remain on the market because substantial equivalence applications were submitted before March 22, 2011. Both Liggett and Vector Tobacco submitted provisional substantial equivalence applications before the deadline for all of their respective cigarette brand styles. FDA announced that it will continue to review the approximately 1,000 pending provisional applications that were determined to have the greatest potential to raise different questions of public health and will remove from review the approximately 1,500 provisional applications that were determined less likely to do so.
As a result, Vector Tobacco received a letter from FDA in April 2018, advising that FDA does not intend to conduct further review of Vector Tobacco’s remaining substantial equivalence applications that have not yet received a substantial equivalence determination unless one of the following occurs: (i) the new tobacco product that is the subject of the provisional application is also the subject of another pending application submitted by the same manufacturer; (ii) FDA receives new information (e.g., from inspectional findings) suggesting that the new tobacco product that is the subject of a provisional application is more likely to have the potential to raise different questions of public health than previously determined; or (iii) FDA has reason to believe that the new tobacco product was not introduced or delivered for introduction into interstate commerce for commercial distribution in the United States after February 15, 2007, and prior to March 22, 2011 ((i), (ii) and (iii) are collectively, the “Conditions”).
Liggett also received a letter from FDA requesting additional information on certain products subject to provisional applications. The letter requested that Liggett certify the date on which each listed product was introduced or delivered for introduction into interstate commerce for commercial distribution in the United States between February 15, 2007 and March 22, 2011. On April 12, 2018, Liggett provided the requested certification for all of the products identified in the FDA letter. On May 21, 2018, FDA sent a letter to Liggett stating that the products identified in the letter would be removed from review unless one of the Conditions occurs.
We cannot predict whether FDA will deem Liggett’s outstanding applications, including its responses to “Preliminary Finding” letters for pending substantial equivalence applications, to be sufficient to support determinations of substantial equivalence for the products covered by these substantial equivalence reports. It is possible that FDA could determine that some, or all, of these products are “not substantially equivalent” to a preexisting tobacco product, as the agency has already
done for 20 of Liggett’s applications. NSE orders for other cigarette styles may require us to stop the sale of the applicable cigarettes and other cigarette styles and could have a material adverse effect on us.
In April 2015, a number of cigarette manufacturers filed a federal lawsuit challenging FDA’s March 4, 2015 “guidance” document, “Guidance for Industry: Demonstrating the Substantial Equivalence of a New Tobacco Product: Responses to Frequently Asked Questions.” The guidance document would have required FDA’s prior approval for all changes to the label of a tobacco product that would render the product “distinct” and a “new tobacco product,” even though there was no change to the product itself. Similarly, the guidance document would have required prior approval for changes in the quantity of products sold within a package. The complaint alleged, among other things, that FDA’s guidance was contrary to and exceeded FDA’s authority under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (“FDCA”).
In September 2015, FDA issued a revised version of the same document entitled, “Guidance for Industry: Demonstrating the Substantial Equivalence of a New Tobacco Product: Responses to Frequently Asked Questions (Edition 2).” The revised version did not materially change the requirements set forth in the prior version regarding changes to product labels and changes to the quantity of products sold within a package. Accordingly, in September 2015, certain cigarette manufacturers filed a lawsuit in the federal district court for the District of Columbia challenging FDA’s September 2015 “guidance” document. In August 2016, the court ruled that a modification to an existing product’s label does not result in a “new tobacco product” and therefore such a label change does not give rise to the substantial equivalence review process. Accordingly, the court vacated the revised guidance insofar as it pertains to label changes, but upheld the guidance in all other respects, including its treatment of product quantity changes as modifications that give rise to a “new tobacco product” requiring substantial equivalence review. The parties did not appeal this decision, concluding the litigation.
In May 2016, FDA issued a final “deeming” regulation that extended the agency’s authority under the TCA to other tobacco products not then regulated by the agency, such as e-cigarettes, cigars, pipe tobacco and hookah. Under the “deeming” rule, manufacturers of the newly-regulated products, including e-cigarettes, are subject to the same TCA provisions and relevant regulatory requirements that already apply to cigarettes.
As part of the comprehensive plan announced in July 2017, FDA said it would focus on nicotine addiction, with the goal of lowering nicotine levels in combustible cigarettes through a product standard developed through notice and comment rulemaking (based upon, among other things, stakeholder comments as well as published literature). On March 16, 2018, FDA issued an ANPR to obtain information for consideration in developing a tobacco product standard to set the maximum nicotine level for cigarettes. FDA stated that it is considering taking this action to reduce the level of nicotine in cigarettes so they are minimally addictive or non-addictive, using the best available science to determine a level that is appropriate for the protection of the public health. In the ANPR, FDA sought comments on a number of issues regarding the development of a tobacco product standard that would limit the amount of nicotine in cigarettes, including: (i) product categories that should be covered by a tobacco product standard; (ii) the appropriate maximum nicotine level and how the nicotine level should be measured; (iii) whether a standard should be implemented through a gradual stepped-down approach or all at once; (iv) the technical achievability of nicotine reduction; and (v) potential countervailing effects, such as the illicit trade of cigarettes containing nicotine at levels higher than a non-addictive threshold that may be established by the FDA. Under the TCA, FDA may adopt a tobacco product standard for nicotine if the agency concludes that such a standard is appropriate for the protection of the public health. FDA may refer the proposed regulation to the TPSAC for a report and recommendation. FDA may consider a wide range of issues prior to the promulgation of a final rule, including the technical achievability of compliance with the proposed product standard. The rulemaking process could take many months or years and once a final rule is published it ordinarily would not be expected to take effect until at least one year after the date of publication. We cannot predict how a tobacco product standard, if ultimately issued by FDA, will impact product sales, whether it will have a material adverse effect on Liggett or Vector Tobacco, or whether it will impact Liggett and Vector Tobacco to a greater degree than other companies in the industry.
Certain States may attempt to pass minimum price legislation
The State of Colorado placed a referendum, called Proposition EE, for taxes on cigarettes, tobacco and nicotine products on the November 3, 2020 ballot. Proposition EE was approved by the voters. In addition to raising the Colorado state excise tax on cigarettes, Proposition EE includes a provision that fixes the minimum retail price of cigarettes in Colorado at $7.00 per pack beginning January 1, 2021, thus reducing the competitive advantage of our Company’s discount priced cigarettes in the Colorado marketplace. We commenced litigation against Colorado challenging the legality of the minimum price provision contained in Proposition EE, the outcome of which cannot be predicted. Although no other state has adopted a fixed minimum retail price law for cigarettes, other states may attempt to do so if the minimum price provision in Proposition EE is determined by the courts to be legal. In the event that litigation challenging the minimum price legislation is not successful or other states
pass similar legislation that withstands judicial scrutiny, the result could have a material adverse effect on our future financial condition, results of operations and cash flows.
It is possible that our consolidated financial position, results of operations or cash flows could be materially adversely affected by an unfavorable outcome in any tobacco-related litigation or as a result of additional federal or state regulation relating to the manufacture, sale, distribution, advertising or labeling of tobacco products.
Liggett’s management believes that it is in compliance in all material respects with the laws regulating cigarette manufacturers in all jurisdictions in which we operate.
The MSA and Other State Settlement Agreements
In March 1996, March 1997, and March 1998, Liggett entered into settlements of tobacco-related litigation with 45 states and territories. The settlements released Liggett from all tobacco-related claims within those states and territories, including claims for health care cost reimbursement and claims concerning sales of cigarettes to minors.
In November 1998, Philip Morris, R.J. Reynolds and two other companies (the “Original Participating Manufacturers” or “OPMs”) and Liggett (together with any other tobacco product manufacturer that becomes a signatory, the “Subsequent Participating Manufacturers” or “SPMs”), (the OPMs and SPMs are hereinafter referred to jointly as the “Participating Manufacturers”) entered into the MSA with 46 states and various territories (collectively, the “Settling States”) to settle the asserted and unasserted healthcare cost recovery and certain other claims of those Settling States. The MSA received final judicial approval in each Settling State.
As a result of the MSA, the Settling States released Liggett and Vector Tobacco from:
•all claims of the Settling States and their respective political subdivisions and other recipients of state health care funds, relating to: (i) past conduct arising out of the use, sale, distribution, manufacture, development, advertising and marketing of tobacco products; and (ii) the health effects of, the exposure to, or research, statements or warnings about, tobacco products; and
•all monetary claims of the Settling States and their respective subdivisions and other recipients of state health care funds, relating to future conduct arising out of the use of, or exposure to, tobacco products that have been manufactured in the ordinary course of business.
The MSA restricts tobacco product advertising and marketing within the Settling States and otherwise restricts the activities of Participating Manufacturers. Among other things, the MSA prohibits the targeting of youth in the advertising, promotion or marketing of tobacco products; bans the use of cartoon characters in all tobacco advertising and promotion; limits each Participating Manufacturer to one tobacco brand name sponsorship during any 12-month period; bans all outdoor advertising, with certain limited exceptions; prohibits payments for tobacco product placement in various media; bans gift offers based on the purchase of tobacco products without sufficient proof that the intended recipient is an adult; prohibits Participating Manufacturers from licensing third parties to advertise tobacco brand names in any manner prohibited under the MSA; and prohibits Participating Manufacturers from using as a tobacco product brand name any nationally recognized non-tobacco brand or trade name or the names of sports teams, entertainment groups or individual celebrities.
The MSA also requires Participating Manufacturers to affirm corporate principles to comply with the MSA and to reduce underage usage of tobacco products and imposes restrictions on lobbying activities conducted on behalf of Participating Manufacturers. In addition, the MSA provides for the appointment of an independent auditor to calculate and determine the amounts of payments owed pursuant to the MSA.
Under the payment provisions of the MSA, the Participating Manufacturers are required to make annual payments of $9.0 billion (subject to applicable adjustments, offsets and reductions). These annual payments are allocated based on unit volume of domestic cigarette shipments. The payment obligations under the MSA are the several, and not joint, obligations of each Participating Manufacturer and are not the responsibility of any parent or affiliate of a Participating Manufacturer.
Liggett has no payment obligations under the MSA except to the extent its market share exceeds a market share exemption of approximately 1.65% of total cigarettes sold in the United States. Vector Tobacco has no payment obligations under the MSA except to the extent its market share exceeds a market share exemption of approximately 0.28% of total cigarettes sold in the United States. Liggett and Vector Tobacco’s domestic shipments accounted for 4.1% of the total cigarettes sold in the United States in 2020. If Liggett’s or Vector Tobacco’s market share exceeds their respective market share exemption in a given year, then on April 15 of the following year, Liggett and/or Vector Tobacco, as the case may be, must pay on each excess unit an amount equal (on a per-unit basis) to that due from the OPMs for that year.
Liggett may have additional payment obligations under the MSA and its other settlement agreements with the states. See Item 1A. “Risk Factors” and Note 15 to our consolidated financial statements.
New Valley, a Delaware limited liability company, is a real estate services, technology and investment business. Its activities include:
•Ownership of Douglas Elliman, the largest residential real estate brokerage company in the New York metropolitan area and the sixth largest in the U.S., conducting real estate brokerage operations in New York, Florida, California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Colorado, New Jersey and Texas.
•Providing other real estate services such as development marketing, property management, mortgage financing, escrow, title and other activities ancillary to its brokerage business.
•Investing in PropTech companies that will both supplement and enhance the technology-based experience of Douglas Elliman’s agents and the general real estate industry as well as improve the operating efficiency of New Valley.
•Investments in numerous real estate projects in different asset classes, including planned communities, condominium and mixed – use developments, apartment buildings, hotels and commercial properties.
New Valley’s business strategy is to achieve sustainable growth in its residential brokerage business in order to leverage its fixed costs and improve profitability. Our goal is to build on our leadership position in the New York metropolitan area while increasing our presence in adjoining markets as well as key markets in Florida, California, Colorado and Texas where the power of the Elliman brand resonates with consumers. The Douglas Elliman residential brokerage model is built on the power and value of our agents combined with industry-leading technology tools and analytics. Our Elliman Everywhere effort seeks to provide agents with the robust virtual and mobile resources they desire and will need to transact business in the current environment and in the years to come. We are also seeking, through investment and acquisition, to increase our delivery of ancillary real estate services that allow our agents and our other businesses to enhance the experience of our clients. We will continue to seek additional investments in real estate and in PropTech companies where our experience and expertise gained from our other real estate activities can aid us to maximize value.
Real Estate Brokerage Business. Douglas Elliman Realty is engaged in the real estate brokerage business through 12 subsidiaries. The 12 brokerage companies have approximately 102 offices with approximately 6,700 real estate agents in the New York metropolitan area as well as Florida, California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Colorado, New Jersey, and Texas. In addition, Douglas Elliman also owns a 1% interest in DE Texas and receives commissions from transactions. Douglas Elliman achieved combined sales of approximately $29.1 billion of real estate in 2020, approximately $28.8 billion of real estate in 2019 and approximately $28.1 billion of real estate in 2018. Douglas Elliman was ranked as the sixth-largest residential brokerage company in the United States in 2020 based on closed sales volume by the Real Trends broker survey. Douglas Elliman had revenues of $774.0 million in 2020, $784.1 million in 2019, and $754.1 million in 2018. In February 2021, Douglas Elliman was named to the 2021 list of America’s Best Large Employers by Forbes.
The New York City brokerage operation was founded in 1911 and has grown to be one of Manhattan’s leading residential brokers by specializing in the highest end of the sales and rental marketplaces. It has approximately 25 New York City offices with approximately 2,200 real estate agents and reported closed sales volume of approximately $7.5 billion of real estate in 2020.
The Long Island brokerage operation is headquartered in Huntington, New York and is the largest residential brokerage company on Long Island. It serves approximately 250 communities in Long Island and Queens, New York. The Westchester brokerage operation operates in a suburban area north of New York City. The Connecticut brokerage operation operates in Greenwich, Connecticut. The New Jersey brokerage operation operates in Hoboken, New Jersey. These brokerage operations operate approximately 40 offices with approximately 2,500 real estate agents and reported closed sales volume of approximately $8.8 billion of real estate in 2020.
The Florida brokerage is headquartered in Miami Beach and operates with 19 offices. The offices have approximately 1,200 real estate agents and reported closed sales volume of approximately $6.8 billion of real estate in 2020.
The California brokerage operation is headquartered in Beverly Hills and operates with 12 offices throughout the state. The offices have approximately 730 real estate agents and reported closed sales volume of approximately $4.8 billion of real estate in 2020.
Douglas Elliman operates as a broker in residential real estate transactions. In performing these services, the company has historically represented the seller or buyer, either as the listing broker for the seller, or as a co-broker for the buyer side of the transaction. In acting as a broker for the seller, their services include assisting the seller in pricing the property and preparing it for sale, advertising the property, showing the property to prospective buyers, and assisting the seller in negotiating the terms of the sale and in closing the transaction. In exchange for these services, the seller pays to the company a commission, which is
generally a fixed percentage of the sales price. In a co-brokered arrangement, the listing broker typically splits its commission with the selling co-broker involved in the transaction. The company also offers buyer brokerage services. When acting as a broker for the buyer, its services include assisting the buyer in locating properties that meet the buyer’s personal and financial specifications, showing the buyer properties, and assisting the buyer in negotiating the terms of the purchase and closing the transaction. In exchange for these services, a commission is paid to the company which also is generally a fixed percentage of the purchase price and is usually, based upon a co-brokerage agreement with the listing broker, deducted from, and payable out of, the commission payable to the listing broker. With the written consent of a buyer and seller, subject to certain conditions, the company may, in certain circumstances, act as a selling broker and as a buying broker in the same transaction. The company’s sales and marketing services are provided by licensed real estate sales persons or associate brokers who have entered into independent contractor agreements with the company. The company recognizes revenue and commission expenses upon the consummation of the real estate sale.
Douglas Elliman Development Marketing or “DEDM”. The DEDM division offers expertise in sales, leasing, and marketing for new developments throughout New York City, Long Island, the Hamptons, Westchester, New Jersey, South Florida, California, Massachusetts and Texas, as well as throughout the United States and internationally. The firm ranks amongst New York City’s most prominent sales and marketing firms with in-house development professionals and an extensive global new development portfolio. Douglas Elliman’s hybrid platform of matching experienced new development experts with skilled brokerage professionals provides unparalleled expertise and real time market intelligence to its clients. Drawing upon decades of experience and market-specific knowledge, DEDM offers a multidisciplinary approach that includes comprehensive in-house research, planning and design, marketing, and sales. Through a strategic global alliance with Knight Frank Residential, the world’s largest privately-owned property consultancy, the company markets properties to international audiences.
Douglas Elliman Market Reports. Douglas Elliman produces a report series that is the benchmark for residential real estate market information in each of the markets it operates. Each report is produced in conjunction with Miller Samuels, a leading independent appraisal firm, and serves as an essential source for consumers, the media, financial institutions, government agencies, researchers, and other market professionals. Each report analyzes metrics such as price and sales trends to give readers an idea of current, historic and future market conditions.
DE Title Services. DE Title Services provides full-service title insurance services to real estate buyers and financial institutions. DE Title Services acts in the capacity of a title insurance agent and sells title insurance to property buyers and mortgage lenders. DE Title Services is licensed as a title insurance agent in New York and Florida. Its affiliate, DE Title Services of Nevada, LLC, provides title insurance services in Nevada.
Portfolio Escrow. In November 2020, Douglas Elliman acquired Portfolio Escrow, an escrow company based in Southern California. Portfolio Escrow is licensed and governed by the California Department of Financial Protection and is a neutral third party that is contracted to uphold the real estate purchase contract. After execution of the purchase contract, purchase funds are deposited by the buyer into a Portfolio Escrow trust account. After all parties agree that all contingencies of the sale contract have been satisfied, Portfolio Escrow delivers all pertinent documents for recording to the appropriate County Clerk’s Office and, then, releases funds to the seller and any other agreed upon entity. Portfolio Escrow, as an escrow holder, is paid a fee equal to a percentage of the sales price.
elliman.com. Douglas Elliman’s website, elliman.com, serves as a destination where consumers can search properties throughout all regions serviced by Douglas Elliman and access current market information on all of those regions as well as comprehensive building and neighborhood guides and other interactive content.
Marketing. Douglas Elliman offers real estate sales and marketing and relocation services, which are marketed by a multimedia program. This program includes direct mail, newspaper, internet, catalog, radio and television advertising and is conducted throughout Douglas Elliman’s operating areas. In addition, the integrated nature of the real estate brokerage companies’ services is designed to produce a flow of customers between their real estate sales and marketing business.
Competition. The real estate brokerage business is highly competitive. However, Douglas Elliman believes that its ability to offer its customers a range of inter-related services and its level of residential real estate sales and marketing help position it to meet the competition and improve its market share.
In the brokerage company’s traditional business of residential real estate sales and marketing, it competes with multi-office independent real estate organizations and, to some extent, with franchise real estate organizations, such as RE/MAX, Century 21 Real Estate, Coldwell Banker Real Estate, Keller Williams, Sotheby’s International Realty, EXIT Realty, ERA, United Country, Weichert, Better Homes and Gardens, and other privately-owned companies. Douglas Elliman believes that its major competitors in 2021 will also increasingly include multi-office real estate organizations, such as Realogy Brokerage Group (formerly NRT LLC, whose affiliates include the New York City-based Corcoran Group as well as Coldwell Banker and Sotheby’s International offices owned by Realogy), Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices of America, Inc., Compass, eXp Realty, Redfin and other privately-owned companies. Specific to New York City, Douglas Elliman’s competitors include
Corcoran, Compass, Brown Harris Stevens, Sotheby’s International and Warburg Realty. Residential brokerage firms compete for business primarily on the basis of reputation, personal contacts, marketing and public relations services; and, recently, technological innovations and, to a greater degree, commission.
Government Regulation. Several facets of real estate brokerage businesses are subject to government regulation. For example, the real estate brokerage divisions are licensed as real estate brokers in the states in which they conduct their real estate brokerage businesses. In addition, real estate sales associates must be licensed as real estate brokers or salespersons in the states in which they do business. Future expansion of the real estate brokerage operations of Douglas Elliman into new geographic markets may subject Douglas Elliman to similar licensing requirements in other states.
Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (“RESPA”) and state real estate brokerage laws restrict payments that real estate brokers, title agencies, mortgage bankers, mortgage brokers and other settlement service providers may receive or pay in connection with the sales of residences and referral of settlement services (e.g., mortgages, homeowners insurance and title insurance). Such laws may, to some extent, restrict preferred alliance and other arrangements involving our real estate franchise, real estate brokerage, settlement services and relocation businesses. In addition, our relocation and title and settlement services businesses, RESPA and similar state laws require timely disclosure of certain relationships or financial interests with providers of real estate settlement services.
Pursuant to the Dodd-Frank Act, administration of RESPA was transferred from United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”) to the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB”) and it is possible that the practices of HUD, taking very expansive broad readings of RESPA, will continue or accelerate at the CFPB creating increased regulatory risk. RESPA also has been invoked by plaintiffs in private litigation for various purposes.
Title Services Regulation. Many states license and regulate title agencies/settlement service providers or certain employees and underwriters through their Departments of Insurance or other regulatory body. In many states, title insurance rates are either promulgated by the state or are required to be filed with each state by the agent or underwriter, and some states promulgate the split of title insurance premiums between the agent and underwriter. States sometimes unilaterally lower the insurance rates relative to loss experience and other relevant factors. States also require title agencies and title underwriters to meet certain minimum financial requirements for net worth and working capital.
Trade Names. The “Douglas Elliman” trade name is a registered trademark in the United States. The name has been synonymous with the most exacting standards of excellence in the real estate industry since Douglas Elliman’s formation in 1911. Other trademarks used extensively in Douglas Elliman’s business, which are owned by Douglas Elliman and registered in the United States, include “We are New York,” “Bringing People and Places Together,” “If You Clicked Here You’d Be Home Now” and “Picture Yourself in the Perfect Home.”
The taglines “The Next Move is Yours,” “askelliman,” “From Manhattan to Montauk,” and “It’s Time for Elliman” are used extensively in the Douglas Elliman’s brokerage operations. In addition, Douglas Elliman’s brokerage operation continues to use the trade names of certain companies that it has acquired.
Residential Property Management Business. Douglas Elliman is also engaged in the management of cooperative apartment buildings, condominium apartment buildings and rental apartment buildings though its subsidiary, Residential Management Group, LLC, which conducts business as Douglas Elliman Property Management and is one of the leading New York City based property managers in the New York metropolitan area according to a survey in the November 2018 issue of The Real Deal. Residential Management Group provides full service third-party fee management for approximately 390 properties, representing approximately 46,500 units in New York City, Nassau County, Long Island City and Westchester County. Among the notable properties currently managed are the Dakota, Museum Tower, Olympic Tower Condominium, Manhattan House, CitySpire Condominium, RiverHouse and The Sovereign, all buildings located in New York City. Residential Management Group employs approximately 258 people, of whom approximately 192 work at Residential Management Group’s headquarters and the remainder at remote offices in the New York metropolitan area.
PropTech Industry Investments
We believe that agents in the residential real estate brokerage industry are increasingly requesting and requiring superior access to technology and back office support services. We expect this trend to continue and accelerate in the future. Consequently, we have increased our focus on investing in the rapidly expanding PropTech industry. PropTech investments offer an innovative approach to enhance the real estate experience by offering research analytics and services around the acquisition, management and disposal of real estate. New Valley, through its subsidiary New Valley Ventures LLC, is actively seeking to capitalize on its unique real estate knowledge and experience by investing in PropTech ventures that will both supplement and enhance the technology-based experience of Douglas Elliman’s agents and the general real estate industry as well as improve the operating efficiency of New Valley.
New Valley Ventures’ investments, all of which are currently $1.0 million or less, include:
•Rechat – an investment in February 2021 in a mobile-centric real estate agent marketing, customer relationship management and transaction-management software. This investment aligns strategically with Douglas Elliman’s multi-year services agreement with Rechat for its agents.
•MetaProp Venture Capital Fund – an investment in a New York-based venture capital firm. This investment provides New Valley with exposure to opportunities in the emerging PropTech industry.
•Camber Creek Venture Capital Fund – an investment in a fund which invests in a pipeline of new PropTech ventures. Camber Creek’s portfolio includes Notarize, a digitized notary service, and Curbio, a renovation firm designed to increase a property’s selling price.
Real Estate Investments
We own, and seek to acquire investment interests in various domestic and international real estate projects through debt and equity investments. Our current real estate investments include the following projects (as of December 31, 2020):
Investments in Real Estate, net
Escena. We are developing a 450-acre approved master planned community in Palm Springs, CA. The development consists of 667 residential lots, which include both single and multi-family lots, an 18-hole golf course, clubhouse restaurant, golf shop and seven-acre site approved for a 450-room hotel.
Townhome A (11 Beach Street). In November 2020, we received, as part of a liquidating distribution from a real estate joint venture, Unit TH-A, a townhouse located in Manhattan, NY. The unit is complete and was actively marketed for sale as of December 31, 2020.
Condominium and Mixed-Use Development
As of December 31, 2020, we owned investments in condominium and mixed-use development real estate ventures, carried at $68.2 million. We had condominium and mixed-use development real estate ventures, carried at $30.5 million as of December 31, 2020, in the New York City Standard Metropolitan Statistical Area (“SMSA”). Of these condominium and mixed-use development real estate ventures in the New York City SMSA, all ventures with carrying values of $10.0 million or greater were closing on units or completed as of December 31, 2020, and the remainder had projected construction completion dates between February 2021 and February 2023. We had condominium and mixed-use development real estate ventures carried at $37.8 million in other U.S. areas as of December 31, 2020. Ventures with a carrying value of $36.0 million as of December 31, 2020 had projected construction completion dates between April 2021 and August 2023, while the remaining ventures had been completed as of December 31, 2020.
As of December 31, 2020, we owned an investment in a venture that owns multiple apartment buildings located in the Baltimore, Maryland metropolitan area, which was carried at zero. The investment was operating as of December 31, 2020.
As of December 31, 2020, we owned investments in hotels carried at $4.5 million, with ventures carried at $2.6 million located in the New York City SMSA and the remainder located in Bermuda. All but one of the hotels were operating as of December 31, 2020.
As of December 31, 2020, we owned investments in commercial real estate ventures carried at $9.7 million, one located in the New York City SMSA and one located in Las Vegas, Nevada. Both of the commercial real estate ventures were operating as of December 31, 2020.
In our real estate investment business, we seek to acquire investment interests in domestic and international real estate projects through debt and equity investments. We focus on new condominium development in Douglas Elliman markets and investing in well-located real estate assets that generate, or have the potential to generate, long-term, predictable and sustainable cash flows with attractive growth and development potential. We believe our ownership of Douglas Elliman provides us with a strategic advantage through its relationships with developers in jurisdictions where we operate. We and our partners seek to enhance the cash flows and returns from our investments by using varying levels of leverage. In addition, we and our partners may earn incentives on certain investments if the investments achieve rates of return that exceed targeted thresholds. Our real estate investments are located in the United States and Bermuda and we may pursue growth in other markets where we identify attractive opportunities to invest in or acquire assets and to achieve strong risk-adjusted returns. We strive to invest at attractive valuations, capitalize on distressed situations where possible, create opportunities for superior valuation gains and cash flow returns and monetize assets at appropriate times to realize value. As of December 31, 2020, our real estate investment business held interests in joint ventures recorded on our financial statements at approximately $85.4 million and approximately $15.6 million in consolidated real estate investments.
For additional information concerning these investments, see Note 9 to our consolidated financial statements and “Summary of Real Estate Investments” located in Item 7. - “Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations.”
We have long believed that the diversity and talent of our people provide a competitive advantage to Vector and its subsidiaries. As of December 31, 2020, we employed approximately 1,275 employees, of which 500 were employed by Liggett, 750 were employed by Douglas Elliman and 25 were employed at Vector’s corporate headquarters.
Liggett. Approximately 40% of the Liggett workforce has been with the Company for more than 15 years. Liggett has maintained long relationships with its employees due to its philosophy of listening to their comments and concerns and regularly engaging them to enhance its human capital management objectives.
Historically, this has occurred with frequent communication across all levels of the company and in-person events with senior management. We believe this philosophy served Liggett well during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The health and safety of our employees is foundational to achieving our human capital objectives. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Liggett’s management proactively took the step of closing its cigarette factory for two weeks, beginning March 15, 2020, for scheduled maintenance and to plan for the necessary COVID-19 manufacturing protocols. Liggett’s management implemented an extensive set of additional protocols and procedures to ensure the safety of its workforce. Among other things, Liggett introduced mandatory mask-wearing, physical distancing and reconfigured certain workspaces in its cigarette factory and the headquarters of Liggett Vector Brands.
Mandatory temperature screenings are currently being administered upon entry to Liggett facilities. Beginning in March 2020, management provided employees with periodic updates on Liggett’s business, including its response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Liggett believes that these initiatives were key in the successful execution of its manufacturing and sales operations throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
Liggett offers comprehensive benefit programs to its employees which provide them with, among other things, medical, dental, and vision healthcare; 401K matching contributions; paid maternity leave; tuition assistance; and paid vacation time.
Of the 500 employees at Liggett as of December 31, 2020, approximately 280 were employed at Liggett’s Mebane factory, 165 were employed throughout the United States in sales positions and the remaining 55 were employed in administrative functions supporting and coordinating sales and marketing efforts.
Of the employees at Liggett’s factory, approximately 200 were hourly employees who are represented by four unions affiliated with either the AFL-CIO or the Teamsters. Liggett has not experienced any significant work stoppages since 1977.
Douglas Elliman. The residential real estate business is built upon personal relationships and we have long believed Douglas Elliman’s team of approximately 750 employees and approximately 6,700 agents distinguishes it from other residential real estate brokerage firms. Forbes recently recognized Douglas Elliman in its 2021 list of America’s best large employers and we believe this recognition is a testament to the hard work and resiliency of the Douglas Elliman family.
While most of Douglas Elliman’s employees are located in the New York metropolitan area, its agents are located throughout the United States in New York, Florida, California, Colorado and New England. In an effort to continue to foster
relationships with our employees and agents, as well as to address the social and economic impact of COVID-19, Douglas Elliman’s management implemented the following initiatives:
•Hosted, and continue to host, more than 20 company-wide virtual town halls, podcasts and communications across all regions. These town halls are intended to promote a spirit of camaraderie and educate our employees and agents about working in a COVID-19 environment, among other things.
•Converted all of its training and educational courses to its online platform.
•Continued to support diversity efforts, including sponsoring Aspen Gay Ski Week, matching employees’ and agents’ contributions to NAACP Legal and Education Fund, and various other health and social charitable organizations.
Douglas Elliman offers comprehensive benefit programs to its employees which provide them with, among other things, medical, dental, and vision healthcare; 401K matching contributions; paid parental leave; and paid vacation time.
We will continue to listen, while engaging and connecting with employees at Liggett and Douglas Elliman as well as Douglas Elliman’s agents, to further our human capital management objectives by continuing the initiatives we first began during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Our website address is www.vectorgroupltd.com. We make available free of charge on the Investor Relations section of our website (http://www.vectorgroupltd.com/investor-relations/) our Annual Report on Form 10-K, Quarterly Reports on Form 10-Q, Current Reports on Form 8-K and all amendments to those reports as soon as reasonably practicable after such material is electronically filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission. We also make available through our website other reports filed with the SEC under the Exchange Act, including our proxy statements and reports filed by officers and directors under Section 16(a) of that Act. Copies of our Code of Business Conduct and Ethics, Corporate Governance Guidelines, Audit Committee charter, Compensation Committee charter and Corporate Governance and Nominating Committee charter have been posted on the Investor Relations section of our website and are also available in print to any stockholder who requests it. We do not intend for information contained in our website to be part of this Annual Report on Form 10-K.
ITEM 1A.RISK FACTORS
Our business faces many risks. We have described below the known material risks that we and our subsidiaries face. There may be additional risks that we do not yet know of or that we do not currently perceive to be significant that may also impact our business or the business of our subsidiaries. Each of the risks and uncertainties described below could lead to events or circumstances that have a material adverse effect on the business, results of operations, cash flows, financial condition or equity of us or one or more of our subsidiaries, which in turn could negatively affect the value of our common stock. You should carefully consider and evaluate all of the information included in this report and any subsequent reports that we may file with the Securities and Exchange Commission or make available to the public before investing in any securities issued by us.
Risks Relating to Our Tobacco Business
Liggett faces intense competition in the domestic tobacco industry.
Liggett is considerably smaller and has fewer resources than its major competitors, and, as a result, has in certain circumstances a more limited ability to respond to market developments. Further, all of Liggett’s unit volume is generated in the discount segment, which is highly competitive, with consumers having less brand loyalty and placing greater emphasis on price. Management Science Associates’ data indicate that in 2020, Philip Morris and RJ Reynolds, the two largest cigarette manufacturers, controlled 74.0% of the United States cigarette market. Philip Morris is the largest manufacturer in the market, and its profits are derived principally from its sale of premium cigarettes. Philip Morris had 57.0% of the premium segment and 44.8% of the total domestic market during 2020. During 2020, all of Liggett’s sales were in the discount segment, and its share of the total domestic cigarette market was 4.1%. Historically, because of their dominant market share, Philip Morris and RJ Reynolds, have been able to determine cigarette prices for the various pricing tiers within the industry.
Further consolidation in the industry could adversely affect our ability to compete in the U.S. cigarette market.
Liggett’s business is highly dependent on the discount cigarette segment and to maintain market share, it may be required to take steps to reduce prices.
All of Liggett’s unit volume is generated in the discount segment, which is highly competitive. While Philip Morris, RJ Reynolds, and ITG Brands compete with Liggett in the discount segment of the market, Liggett also faces intense competition
for market share in the discount segment from a group of smaller manufacturers and importers, most of which sell low quality and deep discount cigarettes. While Liggett’s share of the discount market was 14.2% in 2020, 14.3% in 2019, and 14.3% in 2018, Management Science Associates’ data indicate that the discount market share of these other smaller manufacturers and importers was approximately 35.5% in 2020, 32.3% in 2019, and 29.4% in 2018. If pricing in the discount market continues to be impacted by these smaller manufacturers and importers, margins in Liggett’s only market segment could be negatively affected and, to maintain market share, Liggett may be required to take steps to reduce prices. Thus, Liggett’s sales volume, operating income and cash flows would be materially adversely affected, which in turn could negatively affect the value of our common stock.
The domestic cigarette industry has experienced declining unit sales in recent periods, which could result in lower sales or higher costs for us.
Prior to 2020, industry-wide shipments of cigarettes in the United States had declined for a number of years. Management Science Associates’ data indicated that domestic industry-wide shipments decreased by approximately 5.3% in 2019 as compared to 2018 before increasing by approximately 1.5% in 2020. In addition to a declining market impacting our sales volume, operating income and cash flows, our annual cost advantage from our payment exemption under the MSA declines by approximately $1.7 million for each percentage point decline in shipment volumes in the U.S. market. We believe the 2020 increase was a COVID-19 related anomaly and that industry-wide shipments of cigarettes in the United States will continue to decline in future years as a result of numerous factors. These factors include health considerations, diminishing social acceptance of smoking, and a wide variety of federal, state and local laws limiting smoking in restaurants, bars and other public places, as well as increases in federal and state excise taxes and settlement-related expenses which have contributed to higher cigarette prices in recent years. If this decline in industry-wide shipments continues and Liggett is unable to capture market share from its competitors, or if the industry as a whole is unable to offset the decline in unit sales with price increases, or if Liggett’s market share percentage falls below its MSA payment exemption percentage, Liggett’s sales volume, operating income and cash flows could be materially adversely affected, which in turn could negatively affect the value of our common stock.
Our tobacco operations are subject to substantial and increasing legislation, regulation and taxation, which have a negative effect on revenue and profitability.
Cigarettes are subject to substantial regulation and taxation at the federal, state and local levels, which has had and may continue to have an adverse effect on our business. For a more complete discussion of the material regulations and taxation applicable to our Business, see Item 1. Business. Legislation and Regulation. For instance:
•Federal, state and local laws have limited the advertising, sale and use of cigarettes in the United States, such as laws prohibiting smoking in restaurants and other public places. Private businesses have also implemented prohibitions on the use of cigarettes. Further regulations or rules limiting advertising, sale or use of cigarettes or ingredients or flavorings could negatively impact sales of cigarettes, which would have an adverse effect on our results of operations.
•The federal government, as well as certain state, city and county governments, impose excise taxes on cigarettes, which has had, and is expected to continue to have, an adverse effect on sales of cigarettes. Since certain of these excise taxes were proportionately smaller on other types of tobacco products, a dramatic increase in the sale of mislabeled pipe tobacco occurred, which took away market share from traditional cigarette products.
•Various state and local government regulations have, among other things, increased the minimum age to purchase tobacco products, banned the sale of menthol cigarettes, restricted or banned sampling and advertising and required ingredient and constituent disclosure. Significantly, the federal government increased the minimum age of sale for tobacco products from 18 to 21 years of age in December 2019. Further regulations that limit the group of individuals able to purchase cigarettes in the United States or other regulations that limit the types of products we can offer, such as limitations on use of flavoring, could have a material adverse effect on demand for our products, our results of operations and our business. FDA and other organizations have also conducted anti-tobacco media campaigns, which have and may continue to have an adverse effect on the demand for cigarettes.
There have also been adverse legislative and political decisions and other unfavorable developments concerning cigarette smoking and the tobacco industry, as well as restrictive actions by federal agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency and FDA. In 2009, legislation was enacted giving FDA regulatory authority over tobacco products. Additionally, all states have enacted statutes requiring cigarettes to meet a reduced ignition propensity standard. These developments may negatively affect the perception of potential triers of fact with respect to the tobacco industry, possibly to the detriment of certain pending litigation, and may prompt the commencement of additional similar litigation or legislation. We are not able to evaluate the effect of these developing matters on pending litigation or the possible commencement of additional litigation, but our consolidated financial position, results of operations or cash flows could be materially adversely affected.
Additional federal, state or local regulations relating to the manufacture, sale, distribution, advertising, labeling, or information disclosure of tobacco products could further reduce sales, increase costs and have a material adverse effect on our business.
FDA Regulation under the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act may adversely affect our sales and operating profit.
In June 2009, the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act (“TCA”) became law. The TCA grants FDA broad authority over the manufacture, sale, marketing and packaging of tobacco products, although FDA is prohibited from banning all cigarettes or all smokeless tobacco products. For a more complete discussion of the TCA, see Item 1. Business. Legislation and Regulation.
In July 2017, FDA announced a comprehensive plan for tobacco and nicotine regulation, proposing an increased focus on the impact of flavors (including menthol) and on reducing the level of nicotine in tobacco. FDA’s March 2018 ANPR relating to menthol indicated that it may, among other things, take regulatory actions to implement tobacco product standards and restrict the sale and distribution of tobacco products with flavors, including menthol. In 2020, approximately 19% of our cigarette unit sales were menthol flavored. Regulations under the TCA that restrict or prohibit the sale of menthol flavored cigarettes would reduce the demand for our cigarettes and may have an adverse effect on our business and results of operations.
As part of the comprehensive plan announced in July 2017, FDA said it would focus on nicotine addiction, with the goal of lowering nicotine levels in combustible cigarettes through a product standard developed through notice and comment rulemaking, which FDA announced in March 2018. See Item 1. Business. Legislation and Regulation. At this time, we cannot predict the specific regulations FDA will enact, the timeframe for such regulations, or the effect of such regulations. The rulemaking process could take years and once a final rule is issued it typically does not take effect for at least one year. We cannot predict how a tobacco product standard, if ultimately issued by FDA, would impact product sales, whether it would have a material adverse effect on Liggett or Vector Tobacco, or whether it would impact Liggett and Vector Tobacco to a greater degree than other companies in the industry.
In April 2018, FDA announced a change in its process for reviewing “provisional” substantial equivalence applications. See Item 1. Business. Legislation and Regulation for additional information on the substantial equivalence process. Vector Tobacco received a letter from FDA in April 2018 advising that FDA does not intend to conduct further review of Vector Tobacco’s remaining applications, with certain “conditions” (as described under Item 1. Business. Legislation and Regulation). Liggett received a letter from FDA in May 2018 advising that FDA does not intend to conduct further review for certain applications, also with certain “conditions” (as described under Item 1. Business. Legislation and Regulation). FDA has not indicated whether the applications relating to Liggett’s other products, not covered by that May 2018 letter, would proceed through FDA review. We cannot predict whether FDA will deem Liggett’s outstanding applications to be sufficient to support determinations of substantial equivalence for the products covered by these substantial equivalence reports. It is possible that FDA could determine that some, or all, of these products are “not substantially equivalent” to a preexisting tobacco product, as the agency has already done for 20 of Liggett’s applications. NSE orders for other cigarette styles may require us to stop the sale of the applicable cigarettes and other cigarette styles and could have a material adverse effect on us.
On March 18, 2020, FDA issued a final rule to require new health warnings on cigarette packages and in cigarette advertisements. This rule requires each cigarette package and advertisement to bear one of eleven textual warning statements accompanied by a corresponding graphic image covering 50% of the area of the front and rear panels of cigarette packages and at least 20% of the area at the top of cigarette advertisements. The rule establishes marketing requirements that include the random and equal display and distribution of the required warnings for cigarette packages and quarterly rotation of the required warnings for cigarette advertisements. The final rule provided for an effective date of June 18, 2021, 15 months after issuance of the final rule. The inclusion of new warnings and rotation requirements pursuant to the final rule would likely increase Liggett’s production costs. On April 3, 2020, Liggett, along with other tobacco companies, commenced an action against the FDA in the United States District Court, District of Texas (Tyler Division) challenging the legality of the graphic warning final rule. On May 8, 2020, the court issued an updated scheduling order and granted a joint motion to postpone the effective date of the final rule by 120 days to October 16, 2021. On December 2, 2020, the court granted a motion by the plaintiffs to postpone the effective date by an additional 90 days to January 14, 2022.
We cannot predict whether the court will delay the effective date and/or determine that some or all of the proposed textual and/or graphic warnings, or proposed prominence of the warnings, violate the First Amendment, Administrative Procedure Act, or other legal requirements, or what the impact of such a court ruling would have on the compliance timeline or requirements imposed on industry.
It is likely that the TCA and further regulatory efforts by FDA could result in a decrease in cigarette sales in the United States, including sales of Liggett’s and Vector Tobacco’s brands. Compliance and related costs are not possible to predict and depend substantially on the future requirements imposed by FDA under the law. Costs, however, could be substantial and could
have a material adverse effect on the companies’ financial condition, results of operations, and cash flows. In addition, FDA has a number of investigatory and enforcement tools available to it. Failure to comply with the law and with FDA regulatory requirements could result in significant financial penalties and could have a material adverse effect on the business, financial condition and results of operation of both Liggett and Vector Tobacco. At present, we are not able to predict whether the law will impact Liggett and Vector Tobacco to a greater degree than other companies in the industry, thus affecting our competitive position.
Certain states may attempt to pass minimum price legislation.
The state of Colorado placed a referendum, called Proposition EE, for taxes on cigarettes, tobacco and nicotine products on the November 3, 2020 ballot. Proposition EE was approved by the voters. In addition to raising the Colorado state excise tax on cigarettes, Proposition EE includes a provision that fixes the minimum retail price of cigarettes in Colorado at $7.00 per pack beginning January 1, 2021, thus reducing the competitive advantage of our Company’s discount priced cigarettes in the Colorado marketplace. We commenced litigation against Colorado challenging the legality of the minimum price provision contained in Proposition EE, the outcome of which cannot be predicted. Although no other state has adopted a fixed minimum retail price law, other states may attempt to do so if the minimum price provision in Proposition EE is determined by the courts to be legal. In the event that litigation challenging the minimum price legislation is not successful or other states pass similar legislation that withstands judicial scrutiny, the result could have a material adverse effect on our future financial condition, results of operations and cash flows.
Litigation will continue to harm the tobacco industry, including Liggett.
Liggett could be subjected to substantial liabilities and bonding requirements from litigation relating to cigarette products. Adverse judgments could have a negative impact on our ability to operate due to their impact on cash flows. We and our Liggett subsidiary, as well as the entire cigarette industry, continue to be challenged on numerous fronts. New cases continue to be commenced against Liggett and other cigarette manufacturers. As of December 31, 2020, there were 70 individual product liability lawsuits, two purported class actions and one health care cost recovery action pending in the United States in which Liggett and/or we were named defendants. It is likely that similar legal actions, proceedings and claims will continue to be filed against Liggett. Punitive damages, often in amounts ranging into the billions of dollars, are specifically pleaded in certain cases, in addition to compensatory and other damages. It is possible that there could be adverse developments in pending cases including the certification of additional class actions. An unfavorable outcome or settlement of pending tobacco-related litigation could encourage the commencement of additional litigation. In addition, an unfavorable outcome in any tobacco-related litigation could have a material adverse effect on our consolidated financial position, results of operations or cash flows. Liggett could face difficulties in obtaining a bond to stay execution of a judgment pending appeal. As new product liability cases are commenced against Liggett, the costs associated with defending these cases and the risks relating to the inherent unpredictability of litigation continue to increase.
Individual tobacco-related cases resulting from the Florida Supreme Court’s ruling in Engle could continue to harm Liggett.
In May 1994, the Engle case was filed as a class action against Liggett and others in Miami-Dade County, Florida. The class consisted of all Florida residents who, by November 21, 1996, “have suffered, presently suffer or have died from diseases and medical conditions caused by their addiction to cigarette smoking.” A trial was held and the jury returned a verdict adverse to the defendants (approximately $145.0 billion in punitive damages, including $790.0 million against Liggett). Following an appeal to the Third District Court of Appeal, the Florida Supreme Court in July 2006 decertified the class on a prospective basis and affirmed the appellate court’s reversal of the punitive damages award. Former class members had until January 2008 to file individual lawsuits. As a result, we and Liggett, and other cigarette manufacturers, were sued in thousands of Engle progeny cases in both federal and state courts in Florida. Although we were not named as a defendant in the Engle case, we were named as a defendant in substantially all of the Engle progeny cases where Liggett was named as a defendant. Notwithstanding Liggett’s multi-plaintiff settlements, Liggett and Vector remain defendants in 41 state court Engle progeny cases. The costs associated with defending these cases continue to negatively impact our cash flows. We cannot predict the cash requirements related to any future settlements and judgments, including cash required to bond any appeals, and there is a risk that those requirements will not be able to be met.
Liggett may have additional payment obligations under the MSA.
NPM Adjustment. In March 2006, an economic consulting firm selected pursuant to the MSA determined that the MSA was a “significant factor contributing to” the loss of market share of Participating Manufacturers for 2003. This same determination has been made for additional years. This is known as the “NPM Adjustment.” As a result, the Participating Manufacturers may be entitled to potential NPM Adjustments to their MSA payments.
As of December 31, 2020, the Participating Manufacturers had entered into agreements with 38 Settling States setting out terms for settlement of the NPM Adjustment and addressing the NPM Adjustment with respect to those states for future years.
For 2003 - 2019, Liggett and Vector Tobacco, as applicable, disputed that they owed the Settling States the NPM Adjustments as calculated by the independent auditor. As permitted by the MSA, Liggett and Vector Tobacco paid subject to dispute, withheld payment or paid into a disputed payment account the amounts associated with these NPM Adjustments. The arbitration for 2004, for those states that did not enter into the agreement or otherwise settle, has commenced. As of December 31, 2020, Liggett and Vector Tobacco accrued approximately $13.2 million related to disputed amounts withheld from the non-settling states for 2004 - 2010, which may be subject to payment, with interest, if Liggett and Vector Tobacco lose the disputes for those years.
Liggett may have additional payment obligations under its individual state settlements.
In 2004, the Attorneys General of Mississippi and Texas advised Liggett that they believed Liggett had failed to make all required payments under the respective settlement agreements with these states. Liggett believes these allegations are without merit, based, among other things, on the language of the most favored nation provisions of the settlement agreements. No amounts have been accrued in our consolidated financial statements for any additional amounts that may be payable by Liggett under the settlement agreements with Mississippi and Texas.
In January 2016, the Attorney General for Mississippi filed a motion in Chancery Court in Jackson County, Mississippi to enforce the March 1996 settlement agreement (the “1996 Agreement”). In April 2017, the Chancery Court ruled that the 1996 Agreement should be enforced and referred the matter to a Special Master for further proceedings to determine the amount of damages, if any, to be awarded.
In July 2020, the parties stipulated that the unpaid principal (exclusive of interest) purportedly due from Liggett to Mississippi pursuant to the 1996 Agreement (from inception through 2019) is approximately $15.5 million, subject to Liggett’s right to litigate and/or appeal the enforceability of the 1996 Agreement (and all issues other than the calculation of such principal amount). In September 2019, the Special Master held a hearing regarding the state’s claim for approximately $17.5 million in prejudgment interest as well as post-judgment interest in amounts to be determined. A decision is pending. In the event Liggett appeals an adverse judgment, the posting of a bond may be required.
Liggett may be required to make additional payments to Mississippi and Texas which could have a material adverse effect on the Company’s consolidated financial position, results of operations and cash flows.
Risks Associated with Our New Valley Real Estate Business.
New Valley is subject to risks relating to the industries in which it operates.
The real estate industry is significantly affected by changes in economic and political conditions as well as real estate markets, which could adversely impact returns on our investments, trigger defaults in project financing, cause cancellations of property sales, reduce the value of our properties or investments and could affect our results of operations and liquidity. The real estate industry is cyclical and is significantly affected by changes in general and local economic conditions which are beyond our control.
These conditions include short-term and long-term interest rates, inflation, fluctuations in debt and equity capital markets, levels of unemployment, consumer confidence and the general economic condition of the United States and the global economy. The real estate market also depends upon the strength of financial institutions, which are sensitive to changes in the general macroeconomic environment. Lack of available credit or lack of confidence in the financial sector could impact the real estate market, which in turn could adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations.
Any of the following could be associated with cyclicality in the real estate market by halting or limiting a recovery in the residential real estate market, and have an adverse effect on our business by causing periods of lower growth or a decline in the number of home sales and/or property prices which, in turn, could adversely affect our revenue and profitability:
•periods of economic slowdown or recession;
•rising interest rates;
•the general availability of mortgage financing;
•a negative perception of the market for residential real estate;
•commission pressure from brokers who discount their commissions;
•an increase in the cost of homeowners’ insurance;
•weak credit markets;
•a low level of consumer confidence in the economy and/or the real estate market;
•instability of financial institutions;
•legislative, tax or regulatory changes that would adversely impact the real estate market, including but not limited to potential reform relating to Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and other government sponsored entities that provide liquidity to the U.S. housing and mortgage markets, and potential limits on, or elimination of, the deductibility of certain mortgage interest expense and property taxes;
•adverse changes in economic and general business conditions in the New York metropolitan area;
•a decline in the affordability of homes;
•declining demand for real estate;
•decreasing home ownership rates, declining demand for real estate and changing social attitudes toward home ownership;
•acts of God, such as hurricanes, earthquakes and other natural disasters, or acts or threats of war or terrorism; and/or
•adverse changes in global, national, regional and local economic and market conditions, particularly in the New York metropolitan area and the other markets where our businesses operate, including those relating to pandemics and health crises, such as the recent outbreak of novel coronavirus (COVID-19).
New Valley is impacted by the performance of the real estate market in the New York metropolitan area, which has been adversely impacted by COVID-19. New Valley’s business primarily depends on the performance of the real estate market in the New York metropolitan area. Our real estate brokerage businesses and our investments in real estate developments are largely located in New York City and elsewhere in the surrounding New York metropolitan area.
Douglas Elliman’s business primarily depends on sales transactions for residential property in the New York City market and it derived approximately 29% of its revenues in 2020 and 46% of its revenues in 2019 and 2018 from the New York City market. Published reports and data indicate that the New York metropolitan area was impacted more than any other area in the United States by the COVID-19 pandemic. Various governmental agencies in the New York metropolitan area and other markets where Douglas Elliman operates and where our real estate investments are located, instituted quarantines, “pause” orders, “shelter-in-place” rules, restrictions on travel and restrictions on the types of businesses that can operate. For example, Douglas Elliman’s agents were restricted from performing personal showings of properties or conducting open houses in most of Douglas Elliman’s markets from March 2020 to June 2020. These measures may occur again depending on COVID-19 infection rates. As a result of such measures, volumes of residential property sales transactions in the New York metropolitan area, and specifically, New York City, declined significantly in 2020, and the aggregate sales commissions earned by Douglas Elliman on sales transactions in the New York City area correspondingly declined. Although the suburban New York markets have improved and, recently, we have seen improvement in the New York City market, this has had, and may continue to have, a material adverse effect on Douglas Elliman’s financial condition and results of operations, notwithstanding the mitigating actions we initiated (including employee-related and other expense-reduction measures) and expect to continue during and immediately following this pandemic.
In addition, property development and investment activities are significantly lower than past levels and improvement in the markets where New Valley operates is uncertain. This may have a material adverse effect on New Valley’s real estate investments. As of December 31, 2020, we had investments in or were developing projects in New York City with carrying values of approximately $35.7 million. In addition, during the second quarter of 2020, construction was halted at many of the real estate projects where New Valley is invested. The construction that was halted as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic has since resumed, although the delays may adversely impact those investments. Adverse developments in national and local economic conditions as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, as measured by such factors as GDP growth, employment levels, job growth, consumer confidence, interest rates and population growth in the New York metropolitan area and the United States generally have impacted our investments through reduced demand and depressed prices. We anticipate that this could have a material adverse effect on our Real Estate segment, its financial condition and results of operations.
The Tax Act could negatively impact New Valley’s and Douglas Elliman’s markets. The Tax Act places new limits on mortgage interest deductions as well as state and local income and property tax deductions. The loss of the use of these deductions may encourage residents of states with high income and property taxes and costs of housing to migrate to states with lower tax rates and housing costs. In 2020, approximately 73.0% of Douglas Elliman’s closed sales occurred in New York, California, Connecticut and Massachusetts, and a migration of residents from these markets or a reduction in the attractiveness of these markets as a place to live could adversely impact New Valley’s and Douglas Elliman’s business, financial condition and results of operations.
New Valley is impacted by the attractiveness of New York City as a place to live and invest in and its status as an international center for business and commerce. Through its investments in Douglas Elliman and developments with carrying values of $35.7 million in the New York metropolitan area, New Valley is impacted by the attractiveness of New York City as a place in which to live and invest. If New York City’s economy stagnates or contracts or if there are significant concerns or uncertainty regarding the strength of New York City’s economy due to domestic, international or global macroeconomic trends (including, in particular, the virtual work trend arising as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic), or other factors (including, in particular, any matters which adversely affect New York City’s status as an international center for business and commerce or the economic benefits of New York City’s financial services industry), the New York metropolitan area may become a less attractive place to live, work, study or to own residential property for investment purposes. The attractiveness of New York City may also be negatively affected by other factors, including high residential property sales prices or rents (or a risk or perceived risk of a fall in sales prices in the future), high costs of living, the impact of the Tax Act (discussed above), the impact of changes in state tax law, such as the real estate transfer tax on luxury property (the “Mansion Tax”) and negative perceptions surrounding quality of life, safety and security (including the risk or perceived risk of acts of terrorism or protests).
Any reduction in the attractiveness of New York City as a place to live or a place to invest in residential real estate and any matters which adversely affect New York City’s status as an international center for business and commerce could result in a reduction, by volume and/or by value, in our investment in real estate developments and/or residential property sales transactions in the New York metropolitan area, which would adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations.
Risks associated with our real estate development business.
Real estate development is a competitive industry, and competitive conditions may adversely affect our results of operations. The real estate development industry is highly competitive. Real estate developers compete not only for buyers, but also for desirable properties, building materials, labor and capital. We compete with other local, regional, national and international real estate asset managers, investors and property developers, which have significant financial resources and experience. Competitive conditions in the real estate development industry could result in: difficulty in acquiring suitable investments in properties at acceptable prices; increased selling incentives; lower sales volumes and prices; lower profit margins; impairments in the value of our investments in real estate developments and other assets; and increased construction costs, delays in construction and increased carry costs. Development projects are subject to special risks including potential increase in costs, changes in market demand, inability to meet deadlines which may delay the timely completion of projects, reliance on contractors who may be unable to perform and the need to obtain various governmental and third party consents.
If the market value of our properties or investments decline, our results of operations could be adversely affected by impairments and write-downs. We acquire land and invest in real estate projects in the ordinary course of our business. There is an inherent risk that the value of our land and investments may decline after purchase, which also may affect the value of existing properties under construction. The valuation of property is inherently subjective and based on the individual characteristics of each property. The market value of our land and investments in real estate projects depends on general and local real estate market conditions. These conditions can change and thereby subject valuations to uncertainty. Moreover, all valuations are made on the basis of assumptions that may not prove to reflect economic or demographic reality. We may have acquired options on or bought and developed land at a cost we will not be able to recover fully or on which we cannot build and sell the property profitably. In addition, our deposits or investments in deposits for building lots controlled under option or similar contracts may be put at risk. If market conditions deteriorate, some of our assets may be subject to impairments and write-down charges which would adversely affect our operations and financial results.
If demand for residential or commercial real estate decreases below what was anticipated when we purchased interests in or developed such inventory, profitability may be adversely affected and we may not be able to recover the related costs when selling and building our properties and/or investments. We regularly review the value of our investments and will continue to do so on a periodic basis. Write-downs and impairments in the value of our properties and/or investments may be required, and we may in the future sell properties and/or investments at a loss, which could adversely affect our results of operations and financial condition.
We face risks associated with property acquisitions. We may be unable to finance acquisitions or investments on favorable terms or properties may fail to perform as expected. We may underestimate the costs necessary to bring an investment up to standards established for its intended market position. We may also acquire or invest in properties subject to liabilities and with recourse, with respect to unknown liabilities. New Valley’s acquisition of real estate investments are subject to several risks including: underestimated operating expenses for a property, possibly making it uneconomical or unprofitable; a property may fail to perform in accordance with expectations, in which case the Company may sustain lower-than-expected income or need to incur additional expenses for the property; and the Company may not be able to sell, dispose or refinance the property at a favorable price or terms, or at all, as the case may be; in addition to any potential loss on a sale, the Company may have no choice but to hold on to the property and continue to incur net operating losses if underperforming for an indefinite period of
time, as well as incur continuing tax, environmental and other liabilities. Acquisition agreements will typically contain conditions to closing, including completion of due diligence to our satisfaction or other conditions that are not within our control, which may not be satisfied. Each of these factors could have an adverse effect on our results of operations and financial condition.
Our success depends on the availability of suitable real estate investments at acceptable prices and having sufficient liquidity to acquire such investments. Our success in investing in real estate depends in part upon the continued availability of suitable real estate assets at acceptable prices. The availability of properties for investment at favorable prices depends on a number of factors outside of our control, including the risk of competitive over-bidding on real estate assets. Should suitable opportunities become less available, the number of properties we develop and invest in would be reduced, which would reduce revenue and profits. In addition, our ability to make investments will depend upon whether we have sufficient liquidity to fund such purchases and investments.
If we, or the entities we invest in, are not able to develop and market our real estate developments successfully or within expected timeframes or at projected pricing, our business and results of operations will be adversely affected. Before a property development generates any revenues, material expenditures are incurred to acquire land, obtain development approvals and construct significant portions of project infrastructure, amenities, model offices, showrooms, apartments or homes and sales facilities. It generally takes several years for a real estate development to achieve cumulative positive cash flow. If we, or the entities we invest in, are unable to develop and market our real estate developments successfully or to generate positive cash flows from these operations within expected timeframes, it could have a material adverse effect on our business and results of operations.
Because certain of our assets are illiquid, we may not be able to sell these assets when appropriate or when desired. Large real estate developments like the ones that we retain investments in can be hard to sell, especially if local market conditions are poor. Such illiquidity could limit our ability to diversify our assets promptly in response to changing economic or investment conditions. Additionally, financial difficulties of other property owners resulting in distressed sales could depress real estate values in the markets in which we operate in times of illiquidity. These restrictions reduce our ability to respond to changes in the performance of our assets and could adversely affect our financial condition and results of operations.
Guaranty risks; risks of joint ventures. New Valley has a number of real estate-related investments in which other partners hold significant interests. New Valley must seek approval from these other parties for important actions regarding these joint ventures. Since the other parties’ interests may differ from those of New Valley, a deadlock could arise that might impair the ability of the ventures to function. Such a deadlock could significantly harm a venture. Further, our minority interest in these joint ventures means that we may not be able to influence the outcome of any particular project, and our rights to obtain information may be limited to the contractual requirements. As a result, we may not have adequate insight into the financial condition of any of our joint ventures given that we do not oversee their financial reporting or decision making. If our partners face adverse financial conditions, it may impair their ability to fund capital calls or satisfy their share of any guarantees on project financing. In addition, we are typically obligated to execute guarantees or indemnify our partners for guarantees they may execute in connection with the acquisition or construction financing for our projects. The guarantees that we might be obligated to sign include guarantees for environmental liability at a project, improper acts committed by New Valley (otherwise known as a “bad boy” guaranty), as well as carry and completion guarantees for a project. In the event of a default, if a lender were to exercise its rights under these guarantees, it could have a material adverse effect on our business and results of operations.
Our real estate investments and the real estate market in general could be adversely impacted by changes in the law. Many different laws govern the development of real estate. Changes to laws such as affordable housing, zoning, air rights and others, could adversely impact our real estate projects. The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network of the Treasury Department has recently issued Geographic Targeting Orders that will temporarily require certain United States title insurance companies to identify the natural persons who directly or indirectly beneficially own companies that pay all cash for high-end residential real estate in the Borough of Manhattan in New York City and in Miami-Dade County in Florida. No assurances can be given as to the impact such requirements may have on the continued purchasing of high-end residential properties in Manhattan and Miami-Dade County by such individuals while such requirements are in effect, and no assurances can be given as to the impact such requirements may have in the event they are extended to other markets throughout the country in which New Valley is engaged in high-end residential properties.
The real estate developments we invest in may be subject to losses as a result of construction defects. Real estate developers are subject to construction defect and warranty claims arising in the ordinary course of their business. These claims are common in the real estate development industry and can be costly.
Claims may be asserted against the real estate developments we invest in for construction defects, personal injury or property damage caused by the developer, general contractor or subcontractors, and if successful, these claims may give rise to liability. Subcontractors are independent of the homebuilders that contract with them under normal management practices and
the terms of trade contracts and subcontracts within the industry; however, if U.S. or other regulatory agencies or courts reclassify the employees of sub-contractors as employees of real estate developers, real estate developers using subcontractors could be responsible for wage, hour and other employment-related liabilities of their subcontractors.
In addition, where the real estate developments in which we invest hire general contractors, unforeseen events such as the bankruptcy of, or an uninsured or under-insured loss claimed against, the general contractor may sometimes result in the real estate developer becoming responsible for the losses or other obligations of the general contractor. The costs of insuring against construction defect and product liability claims are high, and the amount of coverage offered by insurance companies may be limited. There can be no assurance that this coverage will not be further restricted and become more costly. If the real estate developments in our real estate portfolio are not able to obtain adequate insurance against these claims in the future, our business and results of operations may be adversely affected.
Increasingly in recent years, individual and class action lawsuits have been filed against real estate developers asserting claims of personal injury and property damage caused by a variety of issues, including faulty materials and the presence of mold in residential dwellings. Furthermore, decreases in home values as a result of general economic conditions may result in an increase in both non-meritorious and meritorious construction defect claims, as well as claims based on marketing and sales practices. Insurance may not cover all of the claims arising from such issues, or such coverage may become prohibitively expensive. If real estate developments in our real estate portfolio are not able to obtain adequate insurance against these claims, they may experience litigation costs and losses that could reduce our revenues from these investments. Even if they are successful in defending such claims, we may incur significant losses.
Our real estate investments may face substantial damages as a result of existing or future litigation, arbitration or other claims. The real estate developments we invest in are exposed to potentially significant litigation, arbitration proceedings and other claims, including breach of contract, contractual disputes and disputes relating to defective title, property misdescription or construction defects. Class action lawsuits can be costly to defend, and if our assets were to lose any certified class action suit, it could result in substantial liability. With respect to certain general liability exposures, including construction defect and product liability claims, interpretation of underlying current and future trends, assessment of claims and the related liability and reserve estimation process requires us to exercise significant judgment due to the complex nature of these exposures, with each exposure exhibiting unique circumstances. Furthermore, once claims are asserted for construction defects, it is difficult to determine the extent to which the assertion of these claims will expand geographically. As a result, we may suffer losses on our investments which could adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations.
Our investments in real estate are susceptible to adverse weather conditions and natural and man-made disasters. Adverse weather conditions and natural and man-made disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes, storms, earthquakes, floods, droughts, fires, snow, blizzards, as well as terrorist attacks, riots and electrical outages, can have a significant effect on the assets in our real estate portfolio. These adverse conditions can cause physical damage to work in progress and new developments, delays and increased costs in the construction of new developments and disruptions and suspensions of operations, whether caused directly or by disrupting or suspending operations of those upon whom our real estate developments rely in their operations. Such adverse conditions can mutually cause or aggravate each other, and their incidence and severity are unpredictable. If insurance is unavailable to the real estate developments we invest in or is unavailable on acceptable terms, or if insurance is not adequate to cover business interruptions or losses resulting from adverse weather or natural or man-made disasters, the real estate developments we invest in and our results of operations will be adversely affected. In addition, damage to properties in our real estate portfolio caused by adverse weather or a natural or man-made disaster may cause insurance costs for these properties to increase.
A major health and safety incident relating to our real estate investments could be costly in terms of potential liabilities and reputational damage. Building sites are inherently dangerous, and operating in the real estate development industry poses certain inherent health and safety risks. Due to regulatory requirements, health and safety performance is critical to the success of our real estate investments. Any failure in health and safety performance may result in penalties for non-compliance with relevant regulatory requirements, and a failure that results in a major or significant health and safety incident is likely to be costly in terms of potential liabilities incurred as a result. Such a failure could generate significant negative publicity and have a corresponding impact on the reputation and relationships of the developer with relevant regulatory agencies or governmental authorities, which in turn could have an adverse effect on our investment and operating results.
Insurance may not cover some potential losses or may not be obtainable at commercially reasonable rates, which could adversely affect our financial condition and results of operations. Real estate properties in our real estate portfolio maintain insurance on their properties in amounts and with deductibles that we believe are comparable with what owners of similar properties carry; however, such insurance may not cover some potential losses or may not be obtainable at commercially reasonable rates in the future. There also are certain types of risks (such as war, environmental contamination such as toxic mold, and lease and other contract claims) which are either uninsurable or not economically insurable. Should any uninsured or underinsured loss occur, we could lose our investment in, and anticipated profits and cash flows from, one or more properties.
The volatility in the capital and credit markets has increased in recent years. Because the volatility in capital and credit markets may create additional risks in the upcoming months and possibly years, we will continue to perform additional assessments to determine the impact, if any, on our consolidated financial statements. Thus, future impairment charges may occur.
Risks associated with New Valley Ventures.
Risks inherent in PropTech Investments. The types of investments that New Valley Ventures anticipates making in the PropTech industry may involve a high degree of risk. In general, financial and operating risks confronting portfolio companies can be significant. While targeted returns should reflect the perceived level of risk in any investment situation, there can be no assurance that New Valley Ventures will be adequately compensated for risks taken, and the loss of its entire investment is possible. The investments may be difficult to value and the timing of any profit realization is highly uncertain. Losses are likely to occur.
Early-stage and development-stage companies often experience unexpected problems in the areas of product development, manufacturing, marketing, financing and general management, which, in some cases, cannot be adequately solved. In addition, such companies may require substantial amounts of financing which may not be available through institutional private placements or the public markets. The percentage of companies that survive and prosper can be small.
Investments in more mature companies in the expansion or profitable stage may involve substantial risks. Such companies typically have obtained capital in the form of debt and/or equity to expand rapidly, reorganize operations, acquire other businesses, or develop new products and markets. These activities by definition involve a significant amount of change in a company and could give rise to significant problems in sales, manufacturing, and general management of these activities.
Risks associated with Douglas Elliman.
Douglas Elliman depends on a strong brand, and any failure to maintain, protect and enhance the Douglas Elliman brand would have an adverse effect on its ability to grow its real estate brokerage business. Douglas Elliman has developed a strong brand that we believe has contributed significantly to the success of its business. Maintaining, protecting and enhancing Douglas Elliman as a premium real estate brokerage brand is critical to growing its business. If Douglas Elliman does not successfully build and maintain a strong brand, its real estate brokerage business could be negatively impacted. Preserving and increasing the quality of the Douglas Elliman brand may require us to make substantial investments in areas such as marketing, community relations, outreach technology and employee training. Douglas Elliman actively engages in print and online advertisements, targeted promotional mailings and email communications and engages on a regular basis in public relations and sponsorship activities. There is no assurance that those activities will enhance the brand awareness.
Brand value can be severely damaged even by isolated incidents, particularly if the incidents receive considerable negative publicity or result in litigation. Some of these incidents may relate to the way Douglas Elliman manages its relationship with its agents, its growth strategies or the ordinary course of its business or its brokerage business. Other incidents may arise from events that are or may be beyond its ability to control and may damage its brand, such as actions taken (or not taken) by one or more agents relating to health, safety, welfare or other matters; litigation and claims; failure to maintain high ethical and social standards for all of its operations and activities; failure to comply with local laws and regulations; and illegal activity targeted at Douglas Elliman or others. Douglas Elliman’s brand value could diminish significantly if any such incidents or other matters erode consumer confidence in it, which may result in a decrease in its total agent count and, ultimately could adversely affect its business and operating results.
The real estate brokerage business in the New York City metropolitan area, Florida, California, Massachusetts, Colorado, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Texas is extremely competitive. Douglas Elliman competes with other multi-office independent real estate organizations and with franchise real estate organizations competing in local areas. Competition is particularly intense in the densely populated metropolitan areas of New York City, South Florida and Los Angeles in which it operates. In addition, in the real estate brokerage industry, new participants face minimal barriers to entry into the market. Douglas Elliman also competes for the services of qualified licensed agents. The ability of its brokerage offices to retain agents is generally subject to numerous factors, including the sales commissions they receive, advertising support and perception of brand value.
Douglas Elliman’s business is concentrated in the states of New York, California, Connecticut, New Jersey and Massachusetts and changes in U.S. Tax Laws could impact these markets. The Tax Act places new limits on mortgage interest deductions as well as state and local income and property tax deductions. The loss of the use of these deductions may encourage residents of states with high income and property taxes and costs of housing to migrate to states with lower tax rates and housing costs. In 2020, approximately 73.0% of Douglas Elliman’s closed sales occurred in the states of New York, California, Connecticut and Massachusetts, and a migration of residents from these markets or a reduction in the attractiveness of these markets as a place to live could adversely impact Douglas Elliman’s business, financial condition and results of operations.
The financial results of Douglas Elliman’s real estate brokerage business is affected directly by the success of its agents. Douglas Elliman’s real estate brokerage offices generate revenue in the form of commissions and service fees. Accordingly, its financial results depend upon the operational and financial success of its brokerage offices and its agents. As mentioned above, there is significant competition among brokerage firms for the services of high producing agents. The failure to recruit and retain these agents could negatively impact the financial success of Douglas Elliman’s brokerage business.
We have made significant operating adjustments in Douglas Elliman’s real estate brokerage business, including staff reductions, which could negatively impact the financial success of Douglas Elliman’s brokerage business in the future. Douglas Elliman’s real estate brokerage offices generate revenue in the form of commissions and service fees. Accordingly, its financial results depend upon the operational and financial success of its brokerage offices and its agents. As a result of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Douglas Elliman’s brokerage business, in April 2020, we made significant operating adjustments at Douglas Elliman, including a reduction of personnel by approximately 25%, which resulted in a reduction in salaries and administrative expenses, as well as a reduction, deferral or elimination of leases across the country. As a result of the expense reductions, in addition to personnel expenses, Douglas Elliman’s professional services, advertising, travel and other occupancy expenses were reduced during the second and third quarters of 2020. While such expense-reduction measures were necessary in order to mitigate the on-going financial impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on Douglas Elliman’s business, there can be no assurance that we will be able to re-hire those employees in the event that economic conditions improve, and as a result, the staff reductions that we have made could negatively impact the financial success of Douglas Elliman’s brokerage business in the future. Further, while we continue to evaluate other expense reduction measures, as Douglas Elliman’s business began to improve in the third quarter, we began to relinquish, as appropriate, some of the second quarter expense reductions, including advertising and personnel expenses, and to the extent Douglas Elliman’s business continues to improve in the fourth quarter, we will continue to do so.
The COVID-19 pandemic could continue to have a material impact on our Real Estate segment; the likelihood and magnitude of a material impact increases with the amount of time the virus impacts activity levels in locations in which Douglas Elliman operates. Therefore, we are unable to predict the ultimate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the future financial condition, results of operations and cash flows from our Real Estate segment.
Infringement, misappropriation or dilution of Douglas Elliman's intellectual property could harm its business. We regard the Douglas Elliman trademark portfolio as having significant value and as being an important factor in the marketing of its brand. Douglas Elliman believes that this and other intellectual property are valuable assets that are critical to its success. Douglas Elliman relies on a combination of protections provided by contracts, as well as copyright, trademark, and other laws, to protect our intellectual property from infringement, misappropriation or dilution. It has registered certain trademarks and service marks and has other trademark and service mark registration applications pending in the U.S. and foreign jurisdictions. Although Douglas Elliman monitors its trademark portfolio both internally and through external search agents and imposes an obligation on agents to notify it upon learning of potential infringement, there can be no assurance that it will be able to adequately maintain, enforce and protect its trademarks or other intellectual property rights.
Douglas Elliman is not aware of any challenges to its right to use any of its brand names or trademarks. It is commonly involved in numerous proceedings, generally on a small scale, to enforce its intellectual property and protect its brand. Unauthorized uses or other infringement of its trademarks or service marks, including ones that are currently unknown to us, could diminish the value of its brand and may adversely affect its business. Failure to adequately protect its intellectual property rights could damage its brand and impair its ability to compete effectively. Even where it has effectively secured statutory protection for its trademarks and other intellectual property, its competitors may misappropriate its intellectual property. Defending or enforcing its trademark rights, branding practices and other intellectual property, and seeking an injunction and/or
compensation for misappropriation of confidential information, could result in the expenditure of significant resources and divert the attention of management, which in turn may adversely affect our business and operating results.
Moreover, unauthorized third parties may use Douglas Elliman’s intellectual property to trade on the goodwill of its brand, resulting in consumer confusion or dilution. Any reduction of its brand’s goodwill, consumer confusion, or dilution is likely to impact sales, and could adversely affect its business and operating results.
Douglas Elliman relies on traffic to its websites, including its flagship website, elliman.com, directed from search engines. If these websites fail to rank prominently in unpaid search results, traffic to these websites could decline and its business would be adversely affected. Douglas Elliman’s success depends in part on its ability to attract users through unpaid Internet search results on search engines. The number of users it attracts to its websites, including its flagship website elliman.com, from search engines is due in large part to how and where its websites rank in unpaid search results. These rankings can be affected by a number of factors, many of which are not under our direct control, and they may change frequently. For example, a search engine may change its ranking algorithms, methodologies or design layouts. As a result, links to Douglas Elliman’s websites may not be prominent enough to drive traffic to its websites, and we may not know how or otherwise be in a position to influence the results. In some instances, search engine companies may change these rankings in order to promote their own competing services or the services of one or more of Douglas Elliman’s competitors. Douglas Elliman’s websites have experienced fluctuations in search result rankings in the past, and it anticipates fluctuations in the future. Any reduction in the number of users directed to its websites could adversely affect its real estate brokerage business and results of operations. Further, a failure of Douglas Elliman’s websites or website-based technology, either due to malfunction, outside intrusion through hacking or otherwise, could significantly disrupt its business and lead to reduced revenue and reputational damage as Douglas Elliman may not be able to effectively scale and adapt its existing technology and network infrastructure to ensure its platforms are accessible.
Risks Relating to Our Indebtedness
We and our subsidiaries have a substantial amount of indebtedness and liquidity commitments.
We and our subsidiaries have significant indebtedness and debt service obligations. As of December 31, 2020, we and our subsidiaries had total outstanding indebtedness of $1.43 billion on a historical basis (or $1.46 billion adjusted to give effect to our January 2021 refinancing). In addition, subject to the terms of any future agreements, we and our subsidiaries may be able to incur additional indebtedness in the future. There is a risk that we will not be able to generate sufficient funds to repay our debt. If we cannot service our fixed charges, it would have a material adverse effect on our business and results of operations.
We have significant liquidity commitments.
During 2021, we will have significant liquidity commitments that will require the use of our existing cash resources. As of December 31, 2020, our corporate expenditures (exclusive of Liggett, Vector Tobacco and New Valley) and other potential liquidity requirements over the next 12 months include the following (after giving effect to our January 2021 refinancing):
•cash interest expense of approximately $109.5 million,
•principal payments on notes related to acquisition of remaining portion of Douglas Elliman of $12.5 million,
•dividends of approximately $128.4 million based on the assumed quarterly cash dividend rate of $0.20 per share and assuming 157,572,448 shares outstanding (153,324,629 common shares outstanding as of December 31, 2020 and 4,247,819 employee stock options with dividend equivalent rights), and
•other corporate expenses and taxes.
In order to meet the above liquidity requirements as well as other liquidity needs in the normal course of business, we will be required to use cash flows from operations and existing cash and cash equivalents. Should these resources be insufficient to meet the upcoming liquidity needs, we may also be required to liquidate investment securities available for sale and other long-term investments, or, if available, draw on the Liggett Credit Facility. While there are actions we can take to reduce our liquidity needs, there can be no assurance that such measures will be successful.
Servicing our indebtedness requires a significant amount of cash and we may not generate sufficient cash flow from our businesses to pay our substantial indebtedness.
Our ability to make scheduled payments of the principal, to pay interest on, or to refinance our indebtedness, depends on our future performance, which is subject to economic, financial, competitive and regulatory factors, as well as other factors beyond our control. The cash flow from operations in the future may be insufficient to service our indebtedness because of factors beyond our control. If we are unable to generate the necessary cash flow, we may be required to adopt one or more alternatives, such as selling assets, restructuring debt or obtaining additional equity capital on terms that may be onerous or highly dilutive. Our ability to refinance our indebtedness will depend on the capital markets and our financial condition at such time. We may not be able to engage in any of these activities or engage in these activities on desirable terms, which could result in a default on our debt obligations.
Our high level of debt may adversely affect our ability to satisfy our obligations.
There can be no assurance that we will be able to meet our debt service obligations. A default in our debt obligations, including a breach of any restrictive covenant imposed by the terms of our indebtedness, could result in the acceleration of the affected debt as well as other of our indebtedness. In such a situation, it is unlikely that we would be able to fulfill our obligations under the debt or such other indebtedness or that we would otherwise be able to repay the accelerated indebtedness or make other required payments. Even in the absence of an acceleration of our indebtedness, a default under the terms of our indebtedness could have an adverse impact on our ability to satisfy our debt service obligations and on the trading price of our debt and our common stock.
Our high level of indebtedness, as well as volatility in the capital and credit markets, could have important consequences. For example, they could:
•make it more difficult for us to satisfy our other obligations with respect to our debt, including repurchase obligations, upon the occurrence of specified change of control events;
•increase our vulnerability to general adverse economic and industry conditions;
•limit our ability to obtain additional financing;
•require us to dedicate a substantial portion of our cash flow from operations to payments on our indebtedness, reducing the amount of our cash flow available for dividends on our common stock and other general corporate purposes;
•require us to sell other securities or to sell some or all of our assets, possibly on unfavorable terms, to meet payment obligations;
•restrict us from making strategic acquisitions, investing in new capital assets or taking advantage of business opportunities;
•limit our flexibility in planning for, or reacting to, changes in our business and industry; and
•place us at a competitive disadvantage compared to competitors that have less debt.
Our 5.75% Senior Secured Notes, 10.5% Senior Notes, and Liggett Credit Facility contain restrictive covenants, and the Liggett Credit Facility contains financial ratios, that limit our operating flexibility, and may limit our ability to pay dividends in the future.
The indenture governing our 5.75% Senior Secured Notes due 2029 (the “2029 Indenture”), the indenture governing our 10.5% Senior Notes due 2026 (the “2026 Indenture”) and the Liggett Credit Facility contain covenants that, among other things, restrict our ability to take specific actions, even if we believe them to be in our best interest, including restrictions on our ability to:
•incur or guarantee additional indebtedness or issue certain preferred stock;
•pay dividends or distributions on, or redeem or repurchase, capital stock or subordinated indebtedness, or make other restricted payments;
•create or incur liens with respect to our assets;
•make investments, loans or advances;
•incur dividend or other payment restrictions;
•prepay subordinated indebtedness;
•enter into certain transactions with affiliates; and
•merge, consolidate, reorganize or sell our assets, or use asset sale proceeds.
Our ability to comply with the provisions of the 2029 Indenture, the 2026 Indenture, and the Liggett Credit Facility may be affected by changes in our operating and financial performance, changes in general business and economic conditions, adverse regulatory developments or other events beyond our control. The breach of any of these covenants could result in a default under our indebtedness, which could cause those and other obligations to become due and payable. If any of our indebtedness is accelerated, we may not be able to repay it. See Liquidity and Capital Resources in Item 7. Management's Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations for details of debt covenant compliance.
Changes in respect of the debt ratings of our notes may materially and adversely affect the availability, the cost and the terms and conditions of our debt.
Both we and several issues of our notes have been publicly rated by Moody’s Investors Service, Inc. (“Moody’s”), and Standard & Poor’s Rating Services (“S&P”), independent rating agencies. In addition, future debt instruments may be publicly rated. These debt ratings may affect our ability to raise debt. Any future downgrading of the notes or our other debt by Moody’s or S&P may affect the cost and terms and conditions of our financings and could adversely affect the value and trading of the notes.
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 may increase the after-tax cost of debt financings.
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 (the “Tax Act”) limits our interest expense deduction to 30% of taxable income before interest, depreciation and amortization in 2018 and 2021 and 50% of taxable income before interest, depreciation, and amortization in 2019 and 2020 (as a result of provisions contained in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (“CARES”) Act, and then 30% of taxable income before interest thereafter for non-excepted trade or businesses. One such excepted trade or business is any electing real property trade or business, of which portions of our real estate business may qualify. Interest expense allocable to an excepted trade or business is not subject to limitation. The Tax Act permits us to carry forward disallowed interest expense indefinitely. Although all of our interest expense has been deductible to date, due to our high degree of leverage, a portion of our interest expense in future years may not be deductible, which may increase the after tax cost of any new debt financings as well as the refinancing of our existing debt. We will continue to evaluate the impact of the nondeductible interest on our operations and capital structure.
Risks Relating to Our Structure and Other Business Risks
We are a holding company and depend on cash payments from our subsidiaries, which are subject to contractual and other restrictions, in order to service our debt and to pay dividends on our common stock.
We are a holding company and have no operations of our own. We hold our interests in our various businesses through our wholly-owned subsidiaries, VGR Holding LLC and New Valley LLC. In addition to our own cash resources, our ability to pay interest on our debt and to pay dividends on our common stock depends on the ability of VGR Holding and New Valley to make cash available to us. VGR Holding’s ability to pay dividends to us depends primarily on the ability of Liggett and Vector Tobacco, its wholly-owned subsidiaries, to generate cash and make it available to VGR Holding. The Liggett Credit Facility contains a restricted payments test that limits the ability of Liggett to pay cash dividends to VGR Holding. The ability of Liggett to meet the restricted payments test may be affected by factors beyond its control.
Our receipt of cash payments, as dividends or otherwise, from our subsidiaries is an important source of our liquidity and capital resources. If we do not have sufficient cash resources of our own and do not receive payments from our subsidiaries in an amount sufficient to repay our debts and to pay dividends on our common stock, we must obtain additional funds from other sources. There is a risk that we will not be able to obtain additional funds at all or on terms acceptable to us. Our inability to service these obligations and to continue to pay dividends on our common stock would significantly harm us and the value of our notes and our common stock.
Goodwill and indefinite-lived intangible asset impairment charges may adversely affect our operating results and financial condition.
We have a substantial amount of goodwill and other intangible assets on our balance sheet, primarily comprised of goodwill and trademarks related to Douglas Elliman. Goodwill, trademarks and other identifiable intangible assets must be tested for impairment at least annually. The fair value of the goodwill assigned to a reporting unit could decline if projected revenues or cash flows were to be lower in the future due to effects of the global economy or other causes. If the carrying value of intangible assets or of goodwill were to exceed its fair value, the asset would be written down to its fair value, with the impairment loss recognized as a non-cash charge in our Consolidated Statement of Operations.
As of December 31, 2020, we had approximately $208 million of goodwill and other intangible assets on our balance sheet, which included $32 million of goodwill and $68 million of trademarks related to Douglas Elliman. During the first quarter of 2020, we determined that a triggering event occurred related to the Douglas Elliman reporting unit due to a decline in sales and profitability projections for the reporting unit driven by the COVID-19 pandemic and related economic disruption. We utilized third-party valuation specialists to prepare a quantitative assessment of goodwill and trademark intangible asset related to Douglas Elliman. The quantitative assessments resulted in impairment charges to goodwill of $46.3 million and to the trademark intangible asset of $12.0 million. Changes in the future outlook of the Douglas Elliman reporting unit could result in an impairment loss, which could have a material adverse effect on our results of operations and financial condition.
Maintaining the integrity of our computer systems and protecting confidential information and personal identifying information has become increasingly costly, as cybersecurity incidents could disrupt business operations, result in the loss of critical and confidential information, and adversely impact our reputation and results of operations.
Global cybersecurity threats and incidents can range from uncoordinated individual attempts that gain unauthorized access to information technology systems both internally and externally, to sophisticated and targeted measures known as advanced persistent threats, directed at the Company and its affiliated agents. In the ordinary course of our business, we collect and store sensitive data, including our proprietary business information and intellectual property, and personally identifiable information of our tobacco and real estate customers. Additionally, we increasingly rely on third-party data storage providers, including cloud storage solution providers. The secure processing, maintenance and transmission of this information are critical to our operations and with respect to information collected and stored by our third-party service providers, we are reliant upon their security procedures. Our systems and the confidential information on them may also be compromised by employee misconduct or employee error. While we and our third-party service providers have experienced, and expect to continue to experience, these types of internal and external threats and incidents, cybersecurity incidents, depending on their nature and scope, could potentially result in the misappropriation, destruction, corruption or unavailability of critical data and confidential or proprietary information (our own or that of third parties, including personally identifiable information) and the disruption of business operations. Our business interruption insurance may be insufficient to compensate us for losses that may occur. The potential consequences of a material cybersecurity incident include reputational damage, litigation with third parties, diminution in the value of the services we provide to our customers, and increased cybersecurity protection and remediation costs, which in turn could adversely affect our competitiveness and results of operations. Developments in the laws and regulations governing the handling and transmission of personal identifying information in the United States may require us to devote more resources to protecting such information, which could in turn adversely affect our results of operations and financial condition.
We depend on our key personnel.
We depend on the efforts of our executive officers and other key personnel as our named executive officers have been employed by us for an average of 25 years at December 31, 2020. While we believe that we could find replacements for these key personnel, the loss of their services could have a significant adverse effect on our operations.
Failure to maintain effective internal control over financial reporting could adversely affect us.
The accuracy of our financial reporting depends on the effectiveness of our internal control over financial reporting, the implementation of which requires significant management attention. Internal control over financial reporting can provide only reasonable assurance with respect to the preparation and fair presentation of financial statements and may not prevent or detect misstatements because of its inherent limitations. These limitations include, among others, the possibility of human error, inadequacy or circumvention of controls and fraud. If we do not maintain effective internal control over financial reporting or design and implement controls sufficient to provide reasonable assurance with respect to the preparation and fair presentation of our financial statements, including in connection with controls executed for us by third parties, we might fail to timely detect any misappropriation of corporate assets or inappropriate allocation or use of funds and could be unable to file accurate financial reports on a timely basis. As a result, our reputation, results of operations and stock price could be materially adversely affected.
Risks Relating to our Common Stock
The price of our common stock may fluctuate significantly.
The trading price of our common stock has ranged between $7.92 and $14.60 per share over the past 52 weeks.
The market price of our common stock may fluctuate in response to numerous factors, many of which are beyond our control. These factors include the following:
•actual or anticipated fluctuations in our operating results;
•changes in expectations as to our future financial performance, including financial estimates by securities analysts and investors;
•the operating and stock performance of our competitors;
•our dividend payment ratio and level;
•announcements by us or our competitors of new products or services or significant contracts, acquisitions, strategic partnerships, joint ventures or capital commitments;
•the initiation or outcome of litigation;
•the failure or significant disruption of our operations from various causes related to our critical information technologies and systems including cybersecurity threats to our data and customer data as well as reputational or financial risks associated with a loss of any such data;
•changes in interest rates;
•general economic, market and political conditions;
•additions or departures of key personnel; and
•future sales of our equity or convertible securities.
We cannot predict the extent, if any, to which future sales of shares of common stock or the availability of shares of common stock for future sale, may depress the trading price of our common stock.
In addition, the stock market in recent years has experienced extreme price and trading volume fluctuations that often have been unrelated or disproportionate to the operating performance of individual companies. These broad market fluctuations may adversely affect the price of our common stock, regardless of our operating performance. Furthermore, stockholders may initiate securities class action lawsuits if the market price of our stock drops significantly, which may cause us to incur substantial costs and could divert the time and attention of our management. These factors, among others, could significantly depress the price of our common stock.
ITEM 1B.UNRESOLVED STAFF COMMENTS
Our principal executive offices are located in Miami, Florida. We lease 12,390 square feet of office space in an office building in Miami. The lease expires in April 2023, subject to another five-year renewal option.
We lease approximately 9,000 square feet of office space in New York, New York under a lease that expires in 2025. New Valley’s operating properties are discussed above under the description of New Valley’s business and in Note 9 to our consolidated financial statements.
Liggett and LVB
Liggett’s tobacco manufacturing facilities, and several of its distribution and storage facilities, are currently located in or near Mebane, North Carolina. Some of these facilities are owned and others are leased. Liggett’s office, manufacturing complex and warehouse are pledged as collateral under its Revolving Credit Facility. As of December 31, 2020, the principal properties owned or leased by Liggett are as follows:
|Type||Location||Owned or Leased||Approximate Total |
|Storage Facilities||Danville, VA||Owned||578,000 |
|Office and Manufacturing Complex||Mebane, NC||Owned||240,000 |
|Warehouse||Mebane, NC||Owned||60,000 |
|Warehouse||Mebane, NC||Leased||125,000 |
|Warehouse||Mebane, NC||Leased||22,000 |
LVB leases approximately 22,000 square feet of office space in Morrisville, North Carolina. The lease expires in June 2026.
Liggett’s management believes that its property, plant and equipment are well maintained and in good condition and that its existing facilities are sufficient to accommodate a substantial increase in production.
Douglas Elliman leases 102 offices throughout New York, Connecticut, Florida, California, Colorado, Massachusetts and New Jersey. Leases expire at various times between 2021 and 2033. As of December 31, 2020, the properties leased by Douglas Elliman are as follows:
|Type||Number of Offices||Location||Owned or Leased||Approximate Total |
|Offices||25 ||New York City, NY||Leased||162,000 |
|Offices||36 ||Long Island, NY||Leased||89,000 |
|Offices||19 ||Florida||Leased||43,000 |
|Offices||4 ||Westchester County, NY||Leased||3,000 |
|Offices||12 ||California||Leased||84,000 |
|Offices||6 ||Other||Leased||1,000 |
ITEM 3.LEGAL PROCEEDINGS
Liggett and other United States cigarette manufacturers have been named as defendants in various types of cases predicated on the theory, among other things, that they should be liable for damages from adverse health effects alleged to have been caused by cigarette smoking or by exposure to secondary smoke from cigarettes.
Reference is made to Note 15 to our consolidated financial statements included elsewhere in this report which is incorporated by reference and contains a general description of certain legal proceedings to which we, or our subsidiaries are a party and certain related matters. Reference is also made to Exhibit 99.1 for additional information regarding the pending smoking-related legal proceedings to which Liggett we are a party. A copy of Exhibit 99.1 will be furnished without charge upon written request to us at our principal executive offices, 4400 Biscayne Boulevard, 10th Floor, Miami, Florida 33137, Attn. Investor Relations.
ITEM 4.MINE SAFETY DISCLOSURES
ITEM 5.MARKET FOR REGISTRANT’S COMMON EQUITY, RELATED STOCKHOLDER MATTERS AND
ISSUER PURCHASES OF EQUITY SECURITIES
Our common stock is listed and traded on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol “VGR.” At February 24, 2021, there were approximately 1,588 holders of record of our common stock.
The following graph compares the total annual return of our Common Stock, the S&P 500 Index, the S&P Small Cap 600 Index, and the NYSE Arca Tobacco Index for the five years ended December 31, 2020. The graph assumes that $100 was invested on December 31, 2015 in the Common Stock and each of the indices, and that all cash dividends and distributions were reinvested.
|Vector Group Ltd. ||100 ||109 ||121 ||61 ||102 ||95 |
|S&P 500||100 ||112 ||136 ||130 ||171 ||203 |
|S&P 600||100 ||126 ||143 ||131 ||161 ||179 |
|NYSE Arca Tobacco||100 ||127 ||141 ||110 ||145 ||147 |
Unregistered Sales of Equity Securities and Use of Proceeds
No securities of ours which were not registered under the Securities Act of 1933 were issued or sold by us during the three months ended December 31, 2020.
Issuer Purchase of Equity Securities
Our purchase of our common stock during the three months ended December 31, 2020 were as follows:
|Period||Total Number of Shares Purchased||Average Price Paid per Share||Total Number of Shares Purchased as Part of Publicly Announced Plans or Programs||Maximum Number of Shares that May Yet Be Purchased Under the Plans or Programs|
|October 1 to October 31, 2020||— ||$||— ||— ||— |
|November 1 to November 30, 2020||— ||— ||— ||— |
|December 1 to December 31, 2020||589,256 ||12.49 ||(1)||— ||— |
| Total||589,256 ||$||12.49 ||— ||— |
(1)Delivery of shares to us in payment of exercise price and tax withholding in connection with stock option exercises by employees. The shares were immediately canceled.
EXECUTIVE OFFICERS OF THE REGISTRANT
The table below, together with the accompanying text, presents certain information regarding all our current executive officers as of March 1, 2021. Each of the executive officers serves until the election and qualification of such individual’s successor or until such individual’s death, resignation or removal by the Board of Directors.
|Name||Age||Position||Year Individual |
|Howard M. Lorber||72 ||President and Chief Executive Officer||2001|
|Richard J. Lampen||67 ||Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer||1996|
|J. Bryant Kirkland III||55 ||Senior Vice President, Chief Financial Officer and Treasurer||2006|
|Marc N. Bell||60 ||Senior Vice President, General Counsel and Secretary||1998|
|J. David Ballard||53 ||Senior Vice President, Enterprise Efficiency and Chief Technology Officer||2020|
|Nicholas P. Anson||49 ||President and Chief Operating Officer of Liggett||2020|
Howard M. Lorber has been our President and Chief Executive Officer since January 2006. He served as our President and Chief Operating Officer from January 2001 to December 2005 and has served as a director of ours since January 2001. From November 1994 to December 2005, Mr. Lorber served as President and Chief Operating Officer of New Valley, where he also served as a director. Mr. Lorber was Chairman of the Board of Hallman & Lorber Assoc., Inc., consultants and actuaries of qualified pension and profit sharing plans, and various of its affiliates from 1975 to December 2004 and has been a consultant to these entities since January 2005; Chairman of the Board of Directors since 1987 and Chief Executive Officer from November 1993 to December 2006 of Nathan’s Famous, Inc., a chain of fast food restaurants; and a Director of Clipper Realty, Inc., a real estate investment trust, since July 2015. Mr. Lorber was a member of the Board of Directors of Morgans Hotel Group Co. from March 2015 until November 2016, and Chairman from May 2015 to November 2016 and was Chairman of the Board of Ladenburg Thalmann Financial Services from May 2001 to July 2006 and Vice Chairman from July 2006 to February 2020. He is also a trustee of Long Island University.
Richard J. Lampen was appointed our Chief Operating Officer on January 14, 2021 and has served as our Executive Vice President since 1995. From October 1995 to December 2005, Mr. Lampen served as the Executive Vice President and General Counsel of New Valley, where he also served as a director. From September 2006 to February 2020, he has served as President and Chief Executive Officer as well as a director of Ladenburg Thalmann Financial Services. Mr. Lampen also served as Chairman of Ladenburg Thalmann Financial Services from September 2018 to February 2020. From October 2008 to October 2019, Mr. Lampen served as President and Chief Executive Officer as well as a director of Castle Brands Inc.
J. Bryant Kirkland III has been our Chief Financial Officer and Treasurer since April 2006 and our Senior Vice President since May 2016. Mr. Kirkland served as a Vice President of ours from January 2001 to April 2016 and served as New Valley’s Vice President and Chief Financial Officer from January 1998 to December 2005. He has served since July 1992 in various financial capacities with us, Liggett and New Valley. Mr. Kirkland has served as Chairman of the Board of Directors, President and Chief Executive Officer of Multi Soft II, Inc. and Multi Solutions II, Inc. since July 2012.
Marc N. Bell has been our General Counsel and Secretary since May 1994 and our Senior Vice President since May 2016 and the Senior Vice President and General Counsel of Vector Tobacco since April 2002. Mr. Bell served as a Vice President of ours from January 1998 to April 2016. From November 1994 to December 2005, Mr. Bell served as Associate General Counsel and Secretary of New Valley and from February 1998 to December 2005, as a Vice President of New Valley. Mr. Bell previously served as Liggett’s General Counsel and currently serves as an officer, director or manager for many of Vector’s or New Valley’s subsidiaries.
J. David Ballard has been our Senior Vice President, Enterprise Efficiency and Chief Technology Officer since July 2020 and, from February 2020 to July 2020, served as a consultant to the Company. Prior to joining Vector Group, Mr. Ballard served as Senior Vice President, Enterprise Services of Ladenburg Thalmann Financial Services Inc. from April 2019 to February 2020. Prior to joining Ladenburg, he served as President and Chief Operating Officer for Docupace Technologies, a leading digital operations technology provider in the wealth management space from March 2018 to April 2019. Mr. Ballard was Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer at Cetera Financial Group from April 2015 to March 2018. Prior to his role at Cetera, Mr. Ballard spent more than two decades working in executive and management positions at several firms in the independent financial advisory and asset management industries, including AIG Advisor Group, SunAmerica Mutual Funds and AIG Retirement Services.
Nicholas P. Anson was promoted to President and Chief Operating Officer of Liggett Group LLC and Liggett Vector Brands LLC in April 2020. Mr. Anson joined Liggett Group in 2001 and has served in numerous senior roles over his nearly 20 years with the Company. Previously, Mr. Anson served as Executive Vice President of Finance & Administration and Chief Financial Officer for Liggett Vector Brands from 2013 to 2020. Mr. Anson was responsible for Liggett Vector Brands’ finance and human resources organizations. His duties included coordination with and certain indirect responsibilities for finance and HR matters at Liggett Vector Brands’ affiliated companies, Liggett Group and Vector Tobacco.
ITEM 6.SELECTED FINANCIAL DATA
ITEM 7.MANAGEMENT’S DISCUSSION AND ANALYSIS OF FINANCIAL CONDITION AND RESULTS OF OPERATIONS
(Dollars in Thousands, Except Per Share Amounts)
We are a holding company and are engaged principally in two business segments:
•Tobacco: the manufacture and sale of cigarettes in the United States through our Liggett Group LLC and Vector Tobacco Inc. subsidiaries, and
•Real Estate: the real estate services, technology and investment business through our subsidiary New Valley, which (i) owns Douglas Elliman Realty, (ii) has interests in numerous real estate projects across the United States and (iii) is seeking to acquire or invest in additional real estate services, technologies, properties or projects. Douglas Elliman operates the largest residential brokerage company in the New York metropolitan area and also conducts residential real estate brokerage operations in Florida, California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Colorado, New Jersey and Texas.
Our tobacco subsidiaries’ cigarettes are produced in 100 combinations of length, style and packaging. Liggett’s current brand portfolio includes:
•USA and various Partner Brands and private label brands.
The discount segment is a challenging marketplace, with consumers having less brand loyalty and placing greater emphasis on price. Liggett’s competition is divided into two segments. The first segment consists of the three largest manufacturers of cigarettes in the United States: Philip Morris USA Inc., which is owned by Altria Group, Inc., RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company, which is owned by British American Tobacco Plc, and ITG Brands LLC, which is owned by Imperial Brands Plc. These three manufacturers, while primarily premium cigarette-based companies, also produce and sell discount cigarettes. The second segment of competition is comprised of a group of smaller manufacturers and importers, most of which sell deep discount cigarettes.
See Item 1. “Business” for detailed overview and description of our principal operations.
Certain discussions of the changes in our results of operations and liquidity and capital resources from the year ended December 31, 2018 as compared to the year ended December 31, 2019 have been omitted from this Form 10-K, but may be found in “Item 7. Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations” of our Form 10-K for the fiscal year ended December 31, 2019 filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission on March 2, 2020.
The outbreak of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, which was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization on March 11, 2020, has led to adverse impacts on the U.S. and global economies and created economic uncertainty. Although much uncertainty still surrounds the pandemic, including its duration and ultimate overall impact on our operations and real estate ventures, we are carefully evaluating potential outcomes and working to mitigate risks. As with many other companies, our operations have been affected by COVID-19. We have implemented remote working for many employees and adopted the social distancing protocols recommended by public health authorities. The following provides a summary of our actions in our two segments - Tobacco and Real Estate - since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic.
Impact of COVID-19 on Tobacco Segment. To date, we have not experienced any material disruptions to our supply or distribution chains, and have not experienced any material adverse effects associated with governmental actions to restrict consumer movement or business operations. However, our suppliers and members of our distribution chain may be subject to government action requiring facility closures and remote working protocols. The majority of retail stores in which our tobacco products are sold, including convenience stores, have been deemed to be essential businesses by authorities and have remained open. We continue to monitor the risk that a supplier, a distributor or any other entity within our supply and distribution chain closes temporarily or permanently.
Although our tobacco segment has not been negatively impacted to date by COVID-19, there remains uncertainty as to how the pandemic may ultimately impact the market. We continue to monitor the macro-economic risks of COVID-19 and the effect on tobacco consumers, including purchasing behavior changes and changes in sales volumes and mix within the discount category. Our Eagle 20’s and Montego brands are priced in the deep discount category and our other brands are primarily priced in the traditional discount category.
Impact of COVID-19 on Real Estate Segment. Douglas Elliman is the largest residential real estate broker in the New York City market and approximately 46% of its revenues were derived from this region in 2018 and 2019. In addition, New Valley has investments in multiple real estate ventures and properties in the New York metropolitan area, which had a carrying value of $35,685 at December 31, 2020. Published reports and data indicate that the New York metropolitan area was initially impacted more than any other area in the United States. Consequently, various governmental agencies in the New York metropolitan area and in other markets where Douglas Elliman operates, instituted quarantines, “pause” orders, “shelter-in-place” rules, restrictions on travel and restrictions on the types of businesses that could operate. These restrictions adversely impacted Douglas Elliman’s ability to conduct business during the year ended December 31, 2020. For example, Douglas Elliman’s agents were restricted from performing in-person showings of properties or conducting open houses in most of Douglas Elliman’s markets from March 2020 to June 2020. Douglas Elliman experienced a severe decline in closed sales volume in New York City from March 2020 to October 2020.
Beginning in April 2020, as a response to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Company made significant operating adjustments at Douglas Elliman Realty LLC, including a reduction of personnel of approximately 25% and reductions of other administrative expenses, as well as a reduction, deferral or elimination of certain office lease expenses. Despite increases in expenses in the fourth quarter of 2020 as business improved, Douglas Elliman Realty LLC operated at a lower cost basis for the fourth quarter and year ended December 31, 2020 compared to the fourth quarter and year ended December 31, 2019.
The COVID-19 pandemic and macroeconomic trends resulting therefrom could continue to have a material impact on our Real Estate segment; the likelihood and magnitude of a material impact increases with the amount of time the virus affects activity levels in locations in which Douglas Elliman operates. Therefore, we are unable to predict the ultimate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and macroeconomic trends (including, in particular the virtual work trend arising as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic), or other factors resulting therefrom on the future financial condition, results of operations and cash flows from our Real Estate segment.
Ladenburg Thalmann Financial Services Inc. (“LTS”). On November 11, 2019, LTS entered into an Agreement and Plan of Merger with Advisor Group. On February 14, 2020, the merger was completed, and each share of LTS common stock was converted into a cash payment of $3.50 per share. We received proceeds of $53,169 from our 15,191,205 common shares of LTS, and we recorded a pre-tax gain of $53,424 from the transaction. We also tendered 240,000 shares of LTS’s 8% Series A Cumulative Redeemable Preferred Stock for redemption and received an additional $6,009 in March 2020. At the closing of the transaction, our Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer resigned as Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer of LTS, and our management agreement with LTS was terminated.
Maturity of 5.5% Variable Interest Senior Convertible Debentures due 2020. In April 2020, our 5.5% Variable Interest Senior Convertible Debentures due 2020 matured and we retired them with a cash payment for the principal balance of $169,610.
Issuance of Common Stock. In May 2020, we announced the pricing of our underwritten public offering (the “Offering”) of 5,000,000 shares of our common stock. We received approximately $53,000 in proceeds from the offering.
Montego. In August 2020, Liggett expanded the distribution of its Montego deep discount brand by 10 states, primarily located in the southeast. Prior to August 2020, Montego was sold in select targeted markets in four states. Montego’s volume
represented 6.3% of Liggett’s unit volume for the year ended December 31, 2020 compared to 3.8% for the year ended December 31, 2019.
Issuance of Senior Secured Notes due 2029. In January 2021, we issued $875,000 in aggregate principal of our 5.75% Senior Secured Notes due 2029 (“5.75% Senior Secured Notes”) in a private offering that is exempt from the registration requirements of the Securities Act of 1933, as amended, to qualified institutional buyers in accordance with Rule 144A under the Securities Act and to persons outside the United States in compliance with Regulation S under the Securities Act. The 5.75% Senior Secured Notes pay interest on a semi-annual basis at a rate of 5.75% per year and mature on February 1, 2029. Prior to February 1, 2024, we may redeem some or all of the 5.75% Senior Secured Notes at any time at a make-whole redemption price and, thereafter, we may redeem some or all of the 5.75% Senior Secured Notes at a premium that will decrease over time, plus accrued and unpaid interest, if any, to the redemption date. The aggregate net proceeds from the issuance of the 5.75% Senior Secured Notes were approximately $855,500 after deducting offering expenses. We used the net proceeds of the issuance, together with cash on hand, to redeem all of our outstanding 6.125% Senior Secured Notes due 2025, including accrued interest and any premium thereon, and to pay fees and expenses in connection with the offering of the 5.75% Senior Secured Notes.
Recent Developments in Tobacco-Related Litigation
The cigarette industry continues to be challenged on numerous fronts. New cases continue to be commenced against Liggett and other cigarette manufacturers. Liggett could be subjected to substantial liabilities and bonding requirements from litigation relating to cigarette products. Adverse litigation outcomes could have a negative impact on our ability to operate due to their impact on cash flows. It is possible that there could be adverse developments in pending cases including the certification of additional class actions. An unfavorable outcome or settlement of pending tobacco-related litigation could encourage the commencement of additional litigation. In addition, an unfavorable outcome in any tobacco-related litigation could have a material adverse effect on our consolidated financial position, results of operations or cash flows. Liggett could face difficulties in obtaining a bond to stay execution of a judgment pending appeal.
Mississippi Dispute. In January 2016, the Attorney General for Mississippi filed a motion in Chancery Court in Jackson County, Mississippi to enforce the March 1996 settlement agreement (the “1996 Agreement”). In April 2017, the Chancery Court ruled that the 1996 Agreement should be enforced and referred the matter to a Special Master for further proceedings to determine the amount of damages, if any, to be awarded. In July 2019, the parties stipulated that the unpaid principal (exclusive of interest) purportedly due from Liggett to Mississippi pursuant to the 1996 Agreement (from inception through 2019) is approximately $15,500, subject to Liggett’s right to litigate and/or appeal the enforceability of the 1996 Agreement (and all issues other than the calculation of such principal amount). In September 2019, the Special Master held a hearing regarding the state’s claim for approximately $17,500 in prejudgment interest as well as post-judgment interest in amounts to be determined. A decision is pending. In the event Liggett appeals an adverse judgment, the posting of a bond may be required.