Corrections Corp. of America executives working to convert the prison manager into a real estate investment trust by Jan. 1 may make that move even if the Internal Revenue Service doesn't give its blessing before year's end.
On his team's conference call discussing third-quarter profits last week, President and CEO Damon Hininger told analysts and investors that there's no "magical date" by which Nashville-based CCA needs to hear from tax authorities about their conversion.
"They’re making a ruling if we would be able to convert to a REIT," Hininger said on the call last Thursday. "So we can behave and operate like a REIT after the first of the year, even though we get the letter maybe a few days or a few weeks after the first of the year."
The calendar is a factor for Hininger & Co. because companies converting to a REIT structure — such as Ryman Hospitality Properties — can do so only at the beginning of a new year. The move seemed to assure investors, who drove CCA shares (Ticker: CXW) from below $33 to around $35 during and immediately after the call. They have since retreated, however, and were changing hands late this morning at about $33.15.
Avondale Partners analyst Kevin Campbell wrote to clients late last week that the IRS could give CCA its blessing or ask executives to make different structural changes than the ones they are making, which would mean waiting another year to convert. In his note, Campbell also lifted his price target for CCA shares to $39 from $38, based in part on the expected tax benefits from being a REIT, but said he thinks the Street's consensus 2013 earnings forecast of $1.64 per share is too high. Campbell's estimate is $1.50 per share.