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CHICAGO-General Growth Properties CEO John Bucksbaum expressed enthusiasm for the upcoming acquisition of the Rouse Co. and its malls, but in this week’s third quarter 2004 GGP earnings call he didn’t have any updated figures for investors about the special dividend Rouse is expected to pay when the deal is finalized in mid-November.

“Our financing is proceeding as planned,” he said of the merger, “and the lending community has shown great interest in participating in this transaction.”

In August, Chicago-based GGP and Maryland-based Rouse agreed to a megadeal of a retail REIT merger, the terms of which have GGP paying about $12.6 billion in cash for Rouse, or about $67.50 per share, as well as assuming $5.4 billion of the REIT’s debt. Currently, according to the Rouse Co., the extraordinary dividend will be between $2.30 and $3.40 per share.

“Acquiring the Rouse Co. was the right thing to do,” Bucksbaum said. “We see opportunities to improve the Rouse portfolio, but also benefits will accrue to the GGP portfolio. We already own significant properties in Salt Lake City, Denver, Atlanta, Miami, Las Vegas, Boston, Baltimore/Washington, Minneapolis and Chicago. With the addition of the Rouse portfolio, we will expand our ability to provide the retailers what they want, where they want it.”

He also noted that after the merger, GGP will be in 44 states, and have 69 centers in 21 of the top 25 MSAs in the country in terms of population, with 60 in the top 17 MSAs.

The expansion of GGP comes against a backdrop of third-quarter 2004 earnings per share that came in at $0.29, the same as in the third quarter of 2003, according to Robert Michaels, president and COO. Fully diluted FFO per share increased to $0.66 in Q304, up from $0.57 a year before.

Michaels also noted that totals sales per sf, on a trailing 12-month basis, were $377 as of Sept. 30, compared with $354 at the end of last year’s Q3. “Our retailers experienced good sales this quarter, despite the hurricanes that hit Florida and the Gulf Coast in August and September,” he said. “Our comparable same-store sales for the third quarter were up 4.8%; total sales were up 7.2%.”

Looking ahead, Bucksbaum noted promising trends in a number of markets, particularly Las Vegas and Hawaii. “These markets are showing strong visitor upswings to GGP properties,” he said. “Visitors to Las Vegas are up 5% over the same period a year ago. In Hawaii, there are year-to-date increases of 8.5%, including a 17% increase in Japanese visitors as of August. This has helped push sales up 21% at the Ala Moana Center in Honolulu so far this year. We expect sales at this single property alone to surpass $1 billion in 2004.”

Bucksbaum also said that the addition of the Rouse portfolio would expand the REIT’s opportunities to use its properties as marketing platforms. GGP’s rival Simon Property Group has been doing exactly that with its behemoth portfolio, and GGP will become a more active player in the malls-as-marketing game as well, once the Rouse properties are on board.

“Our malls now have additional common-area opportunities for advertising and marketing,” said Bucksbaum. “They will be visited 2.5 billion times a year. Every demographic and psychographic is represented in our malls‹we have much more to offer these days than shirts, shoes and slacks.”

In the development realm, Michaels cited the Aug. 4 opening of the 1.8-million-sf Jordan Creek Town Center in West Des Moines, IA, as a success for GGP. “It¹s about 96% leased, including 40 retailers new to Iowa, and 60 new to the Des Moines area. To give you an idea of its reception in the market, about 300,000 people live in Des Moines area, and there were about 600,000 customer visits to the mall in the first five days.”

Michael anticipates a strong holiday season for the GGP stable. “We believe our sales will be up 3% to 3.5%, for a number of reasons, such as the fact that there¹s a longer period between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year, and that Hanukkah starts earlier than last year,” he said. “Specifically, it should be an especially good year for luxury apparel and jewelry, teen apparel and consumer electronics.”

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