Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Intellectual Activism's Impact On General Growth

By Eric Jackson

12/23/09 - 06:01 AM EST

Stock quotes in this article: GGWPQ , SPG

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- It used to be that activism was conducted by poison letters to management from Dan Loeb, or by acerbic rhetoric leaked to the mainstream press from Carl Icahn. But a new kind of activism is being waged by leading hedge funds with positions on both sides of the trade in bankrupt mall owner General Growth Properties(GGWPQ Quote).

Pershing Square Capital Management, Hovde Capital, and T2 Partners are taking turns exchanging their analyses on why they think the stock is under- or over-valued. These intellectual arguments aren't just academic pursuits. They're having large effects on the stock price. Some of the smart money will be right, while others won't look so smart a year from now. Here's what you need to know to take advantage of this new kind of activism.

General Growth started in 1954, when two brothers founded a strip mall in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The company hit a $20 billion market capitalization in April 2007 and is now one of the top mall owners in the country today. But General Growth took on a lot of debt in the credit expansion and was unable to roll over this debt when the lending markets froze, leading to their bankruptcy in April.

The company entered bankruptcy on April 16 with its common shares trading then at 60 cents each The shares have had quite a run since then, touching $12 two weeks ago.

Back in May of this year, Bill Ackman of Pershing Square profiled the bullish case for General Growth at the Ira Sohn Research Conference. He laid out a convincing case for the unique value embedded within General Growth. Unlike the vast majority of bankruptcies, Ackman argued General Growth's was unusual because its net assets were greater than its net liabilities. The company had a liquidity issue, not a solvency issue, Ackman said. Occupancy rates were still high, net operating income (NOI) was steady, and the company owned some of the more prestigious malls in the country across a wide footprint, he contended.

In the extremely conservative scenario, Ackman suggested that the equity value of General Growth was $10 per share at that time. With more normalized assumptions, giving value to the management company and several undeveloped properties and assets, Ackman said the equity value per share would be above $30. As long as the broad economy didn't sink into a severe recession, Ackman said he expected there would be value for equity holders after creditors were compensated.

[This post is an excerpt of the full article, which available on by clicking here.]

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