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NORTH MIAMI BEACH, FL-Locally based Equity One Inc. saw a significant drop in year-over-year funds from operations in 2008, but the retail REIT is positive about the upcoming year as its shopping centers are mainly grocer-anchored. According to the company’s latest earnings report, funds from operations in 2008 totaled $60.5 million versus $98.4 million in 2007. Investment sales activity was also off by 75%.

“The good news is we saw revenue increased by 3.3% primarily as a result of built-in rental increases, higher recoveries and positive re-leasing strives,” CEO Jeff Olson said during the REIT’s fourth quarter earnings call on Thursday. Equity also announced that it had acquired a controlling interest, 75%, in DIM Vastgoed, a Dutch real estate company that owns 21 shopping centers totaling 2.6 million square feet on the east coast. The properties have a total value of approximately $400 million with $260 million of mortgage debt. Calls for additional information were not returned by deadline.

The company’s portfolio occupancy ended the year at 92.1%, unchanged on a same-property basis as compared to the third quarter and down 90 basis points on a same-property basis as compared to year-end 2007. Looking forward, executives indicated that they are expecting some decline in occupancy for 2009. “Probably in the neighborhood of 150 to 250 basis points, and we think rent growth is going to be very modest,” said Olson. However, the REIT remains confident in its holdings because of the strength of its grocer-anchored centers.

“The supermarket industry is one of the few sectors which have increased sales and profits over the past year,” said president Tom Caputo during the call. “We are fortunate to own a strong portfolio dominated by shopping centers, anchored by highly productive supermarkets. We operate a very defensive portfolio with 55 centers anchored by Publix with average sales of $587 per foot and 13 centers anchored by Kroger with average sales of $400 a foot.” Equity’s top six grocers, including Publix, Kroger, SuperValue, Winn-Dixie, Food Line and Buy-Low, account for 25% of its overall rent, according to Olsen.

Looking ahead, Equity is also on the look out for distressed opportunities. “We would anticipate pursuing these distressed opportunities with one of our existing partners or with other capital sources who have expressed an interested in teaming up with Equity One,” said Caputo. In addition, during the coming year the company is looking to sell about $20 million to $30 million of its outparcels to companies that are leasing the space long term, such as Walgreens and McDonalds.

Equity One owns or has interests in 160 properties, consisting of 146 shopping centers totaling 16 million square feet, four projects in development/redevelopment, six non-retail properties and four parcels of land. The REIT currently has $57.9 million of development projects and approximately $8.8 million of redevelopment projects underway, mostly located in Georgia and Florida.

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