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General Growth gets loan reprieve


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POSTED: Monday, December 01, 2008

WASHINGTON » Troubled shopping mall owner General Growth Properties Inc., owner of Ala Moana Center and Ward Centers, is getting a two-week extension on $900 million in debt that had been scheduled to come due last week as the company works to stave off bank-ruptcy and negotiate longer- term extensions with lenders.

The mortgages cover two malls, Fashion Show and Palaz-zo, located in Las Vegas, the company said yesterday.

General Growth Properties, based in Chicago, is the nation's second-largest shopping mall owner and has been hit hard by the deteriorating U.S. economy and problems at struggling U.S. retailers. Analysts are unsure whether new managers, installed in late October, will be able to solve the company's problems.

The company last month hired law firm Sidley Austin as an adviser as it struggles to refinance its staggering debt. The company said in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing last month that it faces nearly $3.1 billion in maturing debt next year, and warned that inability to refinance that debt “;raises substantial doubts as to our ability to continue as a going concern.”;

Deutsche Bank analysts Lou Taylor and Vin Chao predicted Monday that the company will likely receive a longer-term loan extension, rather than default, allowing General Growth to sell off assets or obtain new corporate-level financing.

“;Given the financial markets, it's impossible to determine when this will occur and at what price,”; they wrote.

General Growth has a stake in more than 200 shopping malls in 44 states. It is trying to sell its Las Vegas locations. Shares of General Growth have lost more than 90 percent of their value since the end of September.

Last month, the company reported disappointing third-quarter results and cut its year-end forecast, weeks after the mall owner's board removed its chief executive, president and chief financial officer.

Their ouster came after the company disclosed that former CEO John Bucksbaum's family trust provided $90 million in personal loans to cover margin debt for the former chief financial officer and president.