ATLANTA-It’s a tale of two companies: Cousins Properties and Post Properties historically have been the top two REITS in the Atlanta market and usually among the leaders nationwide. But this quarter has seen a great divide open between the two companies.

Cousins’ third-quarter results ranks the firm as one of the strongest in the world of REITs. Post will announce its results next week but has already warned it will come in well below expectations.

In fact, in early October, Post’s chairman/CEO John Williams disclosed the company has pulled out of some 50% of its planned developments because of a predicted economic slowdown.

Cousins, however, is another tale. For the third quarter, Cousins reported FFO per share increased 17% to 49 cents per share compared to 42 cents per share for the same quarter in 1999. FFO increased 18% to $24.6 million during the quarter from $20 million a year ago.

For the nine months ended Sept. 30, FFO per share rose 13% to $1.40 per share versus $1.24 per share for the same period in 1999. FFO increased 15% to $69.5 million from $60.5 million for the nine months last year.

In a conference call with analysts, president/chief operating officer Daniel M. DuPree said same store NOI growth was 17% for the quarter. That performance was largely driven by the company’s redevelopment and lease-up of Inforum, a 988,000-sf property in Downtown Atlanta, now 99% leased.

The leasing levels in Cousins’ portfolio of office buildings is 98%; retail centers, 95%; and medical facilities, 86%.

Contrary to Post’s fears, DuPree does not foresee a big economic downturn, although a slowdown is likely. Cousins has about $545 million in projects under way nationwide at an 85% pre-leasing level. Office developments are 94% pre-leased.

Cousins’ markets are healthy with little rollover in tenant occupancy and high-credit rent rolls. “We have sculpted the balance sheet to operate in an uneven environment,” DuPree says.

In addition to current projects, the company anticipates beginning construction on a 650,000-sf to 1 million-sf Downtown office tower adjacent to the Georgia-Pacific headquarters monolith. Cousins would move on the project with a 50% to 60% pre-lease tally, DuPree says.

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