General Growth Properties (GGP) has an idea for an economic stimulus plan: Let's all hang out at the mall! GGP is the country's #2 mall operator, behind Simon Property Group. The self-managed and self-administered real estate investment trust (REIT) has a portfolio that includes more than 150 regional shopping malls (some 140 million sq. ft. of space) in major US markets. GGP also has properties in Brazil. The company owns, manages, leases, and redevelops its malls, which generate more than $500 per square foot in sales each year. Some of GGP's shopping locations include Ala Moana Center in Honolulu and Fashion Show in Las Vegas. Top tenants include L Brands, Abercrombie & Fitch, Macy's, and The Gap.
The economic downturn, which impacted the commercial real estate industy, hurt GGP. After struggling to handle debt levels of more than $25 billion, GGP filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in early 2009; it emerged the following year. GGP was able to exit bankruptcy after it restructured some $15 billion in debt and received nearly $7 billion in new equity from several investors including Canadian firm Brookfield Asset Management (which owns nearly 40% of the company) and hedge fund Pershing Capital (which owns some 25%). The Teacher Retirement System of Texas and the Blackstone Group also invested in GGP.
Over the course of the bankruptcy (which was one of the largest in real estate history) GGP weighed offers from other bidders including rival Simon. Simon went back and forth with sweetened deals for the company, but GGP ultimately decided not to accept the bids.
After emerging from bankruptcy GGP revamped itself by splitting into two companies. GGP hung on to its portfolio of mall and retail space, while a new publicly traded company, The Howard Hughes Corporation, took over its portfolio of planned communities and other real estate assets with development potential over the long term. GGP paid the heirs of the late American entrepreneur Howard Hughes $230 million to settle a dispute over the Summerlin planned community in Las Vegas, and in return named the new spun off company after him. Executives from Brookfield Asset Management and Pershing Square Capital Management are in charge of The Howard Hughes Corporation.
In 2011, GGP began making deals and found a way to raise capital in the process. Macerich paid $75 million for the one-third ownership in two Phoenix-area malls held by GGP. Also as part of the deal, GGP received six anchor stores in four states from Macerich. The cash/property swap deal gave GGP extra cash to repay debt and invest in other properties.
GGP spun off about half of its mid-tier properties as it continued to restructure in 2012. It created Rouse Properties to own about 30 malls in noncore markets. The Rouse name is a nod to The Rouse Company, an upscale retail REIT acquired by GGP in 2004. However, the properties are not the Rouse properties of yore: The properties are regional malls with lower rents in locations such as Farmington, New Mexico; Springfield, Oregon; and Hayward, California.
GGP is focused on building its portfolio of Class A regional malls. It also is selling non-core assets in order to raise capital and pay off debt. The company's strategy is to create value among its existing portfolio by redeveloping and expanding properties. Another element of GGP's growth strategy is improving its balance sheet. The economic environment of low interest rates allowed it to receive better mortgage terms on its properties.
The company continues to grow through strategic acquisitions. GGP hopes to take advantage of opportunities and benefit from increased consumer spending. In 2011 GGP (along with Canada Pension Plan) acquired an interest in Plaza Frontenac, a luxury mall in St. Louis. That year GGP also bought several anchor store locations in Las Vegas and Chicago. In 2012 GGP acquired about a dozen Sears stores for $270 million. The deal helped boost GGP's portfolio value and is in line with redevelopment and expansion plans.