Simon FFO Up, But Outlook Cautious

Simon Property Group said that funds from operations (FFO) for the first three quarters of 2008 increased 10.8 percent to $1.312 billion from $1.184 billion in the same period of 2007. In a conference call relatively upbeat about 2008 but cautious about 2009, David Simon, firm chairman & CEO, said that while the weak economy has already begun to affect mall sales, the company has performed well so far this year. Simon even nudged the 2008 guidance for the year up into the range of $6.40 to $6.45 per share. “Our initial guidance for the year (2008) was $6.25 to $6.45, so we’ve increased the lower end,” he said. At the same time, Simon noted that he anticipates a slower leasing environment next year. “We’ve been working on leasing and are ahead of where we were last year in managing upcoming lease expirations,” he told the conference call audience. During the call, Simon also denied rumors that the firm is planning to acquire General Growth Properties, citing the likely size of such a deal and the state of the credit markets. “…[I]n the current environment, I cannot envision a set of circumstances that would result in such a transaction,” he noted. Currently, Simon Property Group regional malls are 92.5 percent leased, while its Premium Outlet Centers are 98.8 percent leased. Sales per square foot are up slightly for the year in both categories. Simon malls are averaging $493 per square foot, up 0.4 percent over last year, and the outlet centers are doing $520 per square foot, 4.2 percent higher than last year. Looking forward, though, Simon plans to reduce capital expenditures significantly during 2009. With more than $900 million of cash in the bank, that could change if economic conditions improve. “Capital spending could increase opportunistically if the world stabilizes,” he said. “And I think the economy will stabilize next year, but we’re making plans as if it won’t.”