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CHICAGO-Shares of troubled General Growth Properties, based here, sank significantly this morning, well below $1 per share. The stock hit as low as 33 cents per share, dropping more than 73%, following a quarterly report that spared no bones about the dire outlook for the retail company that’s saddled with debt and faces a bleak retail year, and even warning of bankruptcy if debt requirements cannot be met. The company’s stock had been trading at more than $41 per share at the beginning of the year, but concerns about too much leverage in a troubled credit market has spooked investors.

In the report Monday, company officials said it expects economic conditions to worsen, which could severely hamper the firm’s plans to dig itself out of debt. “We believe there is a significantly increased risk that the sales of stores operating in our centers will decrease, negatively affecting their ability to make minimum rent payments and increasing the risk of tenant bankruptcies,” GGP officials said in the report. “In addition to the direct adverse effect of tenant failures to pay minimum rents and tenant bankruptcies on our operations, these events also negatively affect our ability to attract and maintain minimum rent levels for new tenants. These circumstances negatively affect our revenues and available cash, and also reduce the value of our properties, reducing the likelihood that we would be able to sell such properties, on attractive terms or at all.” The firm is trying to sell its Las Vegas properties, and reported an 11% drop in FFO for Q3 2008.

The company has more than $900 million in debt scheduled to mature in December, and another $3 billion in debt scheduled to mature in 2009. If the money can’t be raised, the company said, bankruptcy may be an option. “Our potential inability to address our 2008 or 2009 debt maturities in a satisfactory fashion raises substantial doubts as to our ability to continue as a going concern,” the firm said in the report.

Trading at less than $1 for more than 30 days could force the stock to be delisted, causing even more trouble for the company, said officials in the report. If delisted, the company could see a much-reduced pool of investors willing to invest in the firm, as well as difficulty in retaining, attracting and motivating its directors, officers and employees, said GGP officials. In October, as part of moves to take action for the losses, interim CEO Adam Metz replaced John Bucksbaum, who remains chairman, and interim president Thomas Nolan Jr. replaced Robert Michaels, who has moved to be COO.

The company also faces a class-action lawsuit regarding alleged policy violations regarding internal loans to executives. A spokesman at GGP declined to discuss the recent report and the lawsuit with GlobeSt.com.

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