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, 2018
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
(Address of principal executive offices)
(Registrant’s telephone number, including area code)
Securities registered pursuant to Section 12(b) of the Act:
Title of each class
Name of each exchange on which registered
Common Stock, par value $.10 per share
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 if disclosure of delinquent filers pursuant to Item 405 Regulation S-K is not contained herein, and will not be contained, to the best of the Registrant’s knowledge, in definitive proxy or information statement incorporated by reference in Part III of this Form 10-K or any amendment to this Form 10-K. o
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 þ
Accelerated filer o
Non-accelerated filer o
Smaller reporting company o
Emerging growth company o
Indicate by check mark whether the Registrant is a shell company as defined in Rule 12b-2 of the Exchange Act. o Yes þ No
The aggregate market value of the common stock held by non-affiliates of Vector Group Ltd. as of June 30, 2018 was approximately $1.914 billion.
At March 1, 2019, Vector Group Ltd. had 140,914,642 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 2019 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.
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 business through our New Valley LLC (“New Valley”) subsidiary, which is seeking to acquire or invest in additional real estate properties or projects. New Valley owns 100% of Douglas Elliman Realty, LLC (“Douglas Elliman”), which operates the largest residential brokerage company in the New York metropolitan area and also conducts residential real estate brokerage operations in South Florida, Southern California, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Aspen, Colorado.
In addition, as a result of the reduction in e-cigarette activities, results from our e-cigarette operations are now included in the Corporate and Other Segment and 2016 and 2017 information has been recast to conform to the 2018 presentation.
Our strategy is to maximize stockholder value by increasing the profitability of our subsidiaries in the following ways:
Liggett and Vector Tobacco
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 (PYRAMID, EAGLE 20’s, GRAND PRIX, LIGGETT SELECT and EVE) and utilize core brand equity to selectively build distribution;
Continue to provide the best quality products relative to other discount products in the marketplace;
Increase efficiency by developing and adopting an organizational structure to maximize profit potential;
Selectively expand the portfolio of partner brands and private label brands utilizing a pricing strategy that offers long-term price stability for customers; 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;
Continue to leverage our expertise as direct investors by actively pursuing real estate investments in the United States and abroad which we believe will generate above-market returns;
Acquire operating companies through mergers, asset purchases, stock acquisitions or other means; and
Invest our excess funds opportunistically in 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 Vector Tobacco, unless otherwise specified.
For the year ended December 31, 2018, 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 the present time, Liggett and Vector Tobacco have no foreign operations.
Since 2004, Liggett has only produced discount cigarettes and all of Liggett’s units sold in 2018, 2017 and 2016 were in the discount segment. 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, the discounting of premium cigarettes has become far more significant in the marketplace.
According to data from Management Science Associates, Inc., the discount segment represented 27.7% of the total U.S. cigarette market in 2018 compared to 27.5% in 2017 and 27.4% in 2016. Liggett’s domestic shipments of approximately 9.4 billion cigarettes during 2018 accounted for 4.0% of the total cigarettes shipped in the United States during such year. Liggett’s market share was 3.7% in 2017 and 3.3% in 2016. According to Management Science Associates, Liggett held a share of approximately 14.3% of the overall discount market segment for 2018 compared to 13.5% for 2017 and 12.0% for 2016.
Liggett produces cigarettes in 109 combinations of length, style and packaging. Liggett’s current brand portfolio includes:
PYRAMID — the industry’s first deep discount product with a brand identity relaunched in the second quarter of 2009; PYRAMID represented 32.5% of Liggett’s unit volume in 2018, 39.4% in 2017 and 50.7% in 2016,
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 53.5% of Liggett’s unit volume in 2018, 44.4% in 2017 and 29.1% in 2016. EAGLE 20’s is now the largest seller in Liggett’s family of brands,
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 settlement agreements with the states and the MSA. Liggett’s long-term business strategy is to continue to focus its marketing and selling efforts on the discount segment of the market, to continue to build volume and margin in its core discount brands (PYRAMID, EAGLE 20’s, GRAND PRIX, LIGGETT SELECT and EVE) and to utilize its core brand equity to selectively build distribution. Liggett intends to continue its product management efforts to provide the best quality products relative to other discount products in the market place. 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 2018, 18% and 13% of Liggett’s revenues in 2017, and 16% and 14% of Liggett’s revenues in 2016. 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 11% and 4%, respectively, of net accounts receivable at December 31, 2018, 7% and 5%, respectively, at December 31, 2017, and 9% and 3%, respectively, at December 31, 2016. Ongoing credit evaluations of customers’ financial condition are performed and, generally, no security is required. Liggett maintains 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 supply of tobacco within the worldwide tobacco market 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, 2018, 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 109 different cigarette brand styles. Liggett’s facility produced approximately 9.4 billion cigarettes in 2018, 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 were able to overcome these competitive barriers due to their cost advantage resulting from the MSA. These smaller manufacturers and importers that are not parties to the MSA 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. The two major manufacturers compete among themselves for premium brand market share based on advertising and promotional activities and trade rebates and incentives and compete with Liggett and others for discount market share, on the basis of cost and brand loyalty. 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 76.5% of the domestic cigarette market in 2018. Liggett’s domestic shipments of approximately 9.4 billion cigarettes during 2018 accounted for 4.0% of the approximately 236 billion cigarettes shipped in the United States, compared to 9.2 billion cigarettes in 2017 (3.7%) and 8.5 billion cigarettes in 2016 (3.3%).
Industry-wide shipments of cigarettes in the United States have been declining for a number of years, with Management Science Associates Inc.’s data indicating that domestic industry-wide shipments declined by 4.7% (approximately 11.6 billion units) and 4.2% (approximately 10.8 billion units) in 2018 and 2017, respectively. 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.
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. Recent discounting by manufacturers
has been far greater than historical levels, and the actual price gap between premium and deep-discount cigarettes has changed accordingly. This has led to shifts in price segment performance depending upon the actual price gaps of products at retail.
Philip Morris and RJ Reynolds dominate the domestic cigarette market, controlling 76.5% of the U.S. cigarette market in 2018, 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.
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 faced 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.
Reports with respect to the alleged 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 cancer, heart disease 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 2018 were $23,429 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 the safety, dependence or 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 plaintiffs’ 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 plaintiffs’ 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) in increased initiation among youth and young adults as well as assisting adult smokers to switch to potentially less harmful forms of nicotine delivery. In 2018, approximately 20% 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.
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 a ban on the distribution of product samples. In March 2012, a federal
appellate court let stand numerous 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 the lawsuit was dismissed in November 2013. FDA’s proposal remains under consideration. We cannot predict the future impact of the proposed amendment.
In June 2011, FDA issued a final rule that would have modified the required warnings that appear on cigarette packages and in cigarette advertisements. The rule would have required each cigarette package and advertisement to bear one of nine new textual warning statements accompanied by graphic images. The warnings would have had to appear on at least the top 50% of the front and rear panels of cigarette packages and occupy at least 20% of cigarette advertisements. In August 2011, a number of cigarette manufacturers, including Liggett, filed a federal lawsuit against FDA challenging the constitutionality of these new graphic images on First Amendment and other grounds and seeking an injunction staying implementation of the graphic images, and other related labeling requirements. In February 2012, on First Amendment grounds, the court granted the industry’s motion for summary judgment permanently enjoining implementation of FDA’s graphic warnings regulation. This decision was affirmed on appeal and FDA did not seek United States Supreme Court review. FDA instead decided to undertake research to support a new graphic warnings rule. In October 2016, the American Academy of Pediatrics and other public health groups filed a federal lawsuit claiming that the FDA had unlawfully withheld and unreasonably delayed action on the rule. In September 2018, the District Court for the District of Massachusetts issued an order granting summary judgment to the plaintiffs and ordered FDA to provide an expedited schedule for the issuance of the rule. FDA subsequently proposed a new deadline for the final rule of May 2021. The plaintiffs responded by asking the court to order FDA to publish a final rule by January 31, 2020. The court has not issued its response to either party. Should FDA ultimately issue new graphic warnings that are deemed constitutionally valid, the decision provides that such warnings would go into effect 15 months after they are issued. We cannot predict how the inclusion of new warnings, if ultimately required by FDA in new rulemaking, would impact product sales or whether it would have a material adverse effect on us.
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 1% of the tobacco segment’s annual revenue in 2017. 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 0.5% of the tobacco segment’s annual revenue in 2017. 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 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 have been permitted to remain on the market since 2011 because a substantial equivalence application for them was submitted on or 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.
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, 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 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 Colombia 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 seeks 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, 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.
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 4.0% of the total cigarettes sold in the United States in 2018. 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 engaged in the real estate business and is seeking to acquire or invest in additional real estate properties and projects.
Prior to December 31, 2018, New Valley owned a 70.59% interest in Douglas Elliman, and on December 31, 2018, New Valley acquired the remaining 29.41% interest for a purchase price of $40.0 million. The transaction brings New Valley’s indirect ownership interest in Douglas Elliman to 100%. Douglas Elliman operates the largest residential brokerage company in the New York City metropolitan area, which is known as Douglas Elliman Real Estate or Douglas Elliman. New Valley also holds investment interests in various real estate projects domestically and internationally.
New Valley’s business strategy is to continue to operate its real estate business, to acquire additional real estate properties and to acquire operating companies through merger, purchase of assets, stock acquisition or other means, or to acquire control of operating companies through one of such means. New Valley may also seek from time to time to dispose of such businesses and properties when favorable market conditions exist. New Valley’s cash and investments are available for general corporate purposes, including for acquisition purposes.
Real Estate Brokerage Business. Douglas Elliman is engaged in the real estate brokerage business through nine subsidiaries. The nine brokerage companies have 115 offices with approximately 7,200 real estate agents in the New York metropolitan area as well as South Florida, Southern California, Greenwich, Connecticut, Aspen, Colorado and Boston, Massachusetts. The companies achieved combined sales of approximately $28.1 billion of real estate in 2018, approximately $26.1 billion of real estate in 2017 and approximately $24.6 billion of real estate in 2016. Douglas Elliman was ranked as the third-largest residential brokerage company in the United States in 2018 based on closed sales volume by the Real Trends broker survey. Douglas Elliman had revenues of $754.1 million in 2018, $722.3 million in 2017, and $675.3 million in 2016.
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 21 New York City offices, with approximately 2,773 real estate agents, 5,979 transactions, representing sales volume of approximately $12.1 billion of real estate in 2018.
The Long Island brokerage operation is headquartered in Huntington, New York and is the largest residential brokerage company on Long Island with 37 offices and approximately 2,218 real estate agents. 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 with six offices and approximately 181 real estate agents. The Connecticut brokerage operation operates in Greenwich, Connecticut with one office and approximately 80 real estate agents. During 2018, the three brokerage operations closed approximately 10,695 transactions, representing sales volume of approximately $7.4 billion of real estate.
The Florida brokerage operates in South Florida with 18 offices located in downtown Miami, Miami Beach, Coconut Grove, Coral Gables, North Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, Boca Raton and Palm Beach. The offices have approximately 1,076 real estate agents and closed approximately 3,577 transactions, representing sales volume of $4.7 billion of real estate in 2018.
The California brokerage operation is headquartered in Los Angeles and operates with 24 offices throughout the state. The offices have approximately 813 real estate agents and closed approximately 2,432 transactions, representing sales volume of $3.4 billion of real estate in 2018.
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 other 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 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.
DE Title Services. DE Title Services provides full-service title services to real estate buyers and financial institutions. DE Title Services acts in the capacity of a title agent and sells title insurance to property buyers and mortgage lenders. DE Title Services is licensed as a title agent in New York and Florida. Its affiliate, DE Title Services of Nevada, LLC, provides title services in Nevada.
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 Manhattan and Long Island. 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 their customers a range of inter-related services and its level of residential real estate sales and marketing help position them to meet the competition and improve their 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 Century-21, ERA, RE/MAX International, Sotheby’s International Realty, Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices, and Coldwell Banker. Douglas Elliman believes that its major competitors in 2019 will also increasingly include multi-office real estate organizations, such as GMAC Home Services, NRT LLC (whose affiliates include the New York City-based Corcoran Group) and other privately-owned companies. Specific to the New York metropolitan area, Douglas Elliman’s competitors include Corcoran, Brown Harris Stevens, Halstead Properties, Compass and Stribling & Associates. Residential brokerage firms compete for sales and marketing business primarily on the basis of services offered, reputation, personal contacts, and, recently to a greater degree, price.
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 “It’s Time for Elliman,” “From Manhattan to Montauk” and “askelliman.com” 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 cooperatives, condominiums and apartments 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 394 properties, representing approximately 44,300 units in New York City, Nassau County, Northern New Jersey 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 280 people, of whom approximately 198 work at Residential Management Group’s headquarters and the remainder at remote offices in the New York metropolitan area.
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:
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.
Sagaponack. We are developing a luxury oceanfront property in Sagaponack, NY. We are the sole owner of the land, and as of December 31, 2018, the assets of Sagaponack consist of land and land improvements of $16,050. The property is expected to be completed by 2019, and is currently listed for sale.
Condominium and Mixed-Use Development
As of December 31, 2018, we had 15 investments in condominium and mixed-use development real estate ventures. We had 12 condominium and mixed-use development real estate ventures in the New York City Standard Metropolitan Statistical Area (“SMSA”). Of the 12 condominium and mixed-use development real estate ventures in the New York City SMSA, seven were closing on units as of December 31, 2018 and the remainder had projected construction completion dates between March 2019 and June 2020. We had three condominium and mixed-use development real estate ventures in other U.S. areas as of December 31, 2018. The three condominium and mixed-use development real estate ventures in other U.S. areas had projected construction completion dates between June 2019 and December 2020.
As of December 31, 2018, we had one active investment in apartment buildings located in the Baltimore, Maryland metropolitan area. The investment was operating as of December 31, 2018.
As of December 31, 2018, we had three investments in hotels, two located in the New York City SMSA and one located in Bermuda. The hotels were operating as of December 31, 2018.
As of December 31, 2018, we had two investments in commercial real estate ventures, 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, 2018.
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. Our portfolio as of December 31, 2018 included interests in the 25 properties discussed above. As of December 31, 2018, our real estate investment business held interests in joint ventures recorded on our financial statements at approximately $141.1 million and approximately $26.2 million in consolidated real estate investments.
For additional information concerning these investments, see Note 8 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.”
At December 31, 2018, we had 1,555 employees, of which approximately 1,045 were employed by Douglas Elliman primarily in the New York area, 275 were employed at Liggett’s Mebane facility and approximately 210 were employed in sales and administrative functions at Liggett Vector Brands LLC (“LVB”), which coordinates our tobacco subsidiary’s sales and marketing efforts, along with certain support functions. Approximately 13% of our employees are hourly employees, who are represented by unions. We have not experienced any significant work stoppages since 1977, and we believe that relations with our employees and their unions are satisfactory.
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.
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.
We have significant liquidity commitments.
During 2019, we have significant liquidity commitments that will require the use of our existing cash resources. As of December 31, 2018, our corporate expenditures (exclusive of Liggett, Vector Tobacco and New Valley) and other potential liquidity requirements over the next 12 months include the following:
repayment of the convertible notes, which included repayment of the $230 million of 7.5% Variable Interest Senior Convertible Notes that were repaid at maturity in January 2019 using proceeds of an offering of $325 million unsecured notes issued in November 2018, and, by April 2020, repayment of $232.0 million of our 5.5% Variable Interest Senior Notes due 2020;
cash interest expense of approximately $118.3 million,
dividends on our outstanding common shares of approximately $240.0 million based on a historical quarterly cash dividend rate of $0.40 per share, 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 Liggett’s 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.
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. Liggett’s revolving credit agreement with Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. 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, including Wells Fargo’s unilateral discretion, if acting in good faith, to modify elements of such test.
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 common stock.
We and our subsidiaries have a substantial amount of indebtedness.
We and our subsidiaries have significant indebtedness and debt service obligations. As of December 31, 2018, we and our subsidiaries had total outstanding indebtedness of $1.7 billion, with $230 million due in January 2019 that was repaid using proceeds of an offering of $325 million unsecured notes we issued in October 2018. 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.
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.