LOS ANGELES-Thomas Properties Group is focusing on capital preservation and creation in response to the continuing credit crunch and the economic downturn, president and CEO Jim Thomas said during the recent earnings conference call hosted by the Downtown, L.A.-based company. Thomas commented that “While we are operating in very challenging economic conditions, our properties’ occupancies are relatively strong, rental rates in our markets are holding up, and we do not have significant lease expirations this year.”

Thomas noted that the company has loan extension options for all of its debt maturing in 2009 except for one small loan, which it intends to pay. “We are closely monitoring our costs to conserve cash by halting pre-development, deferring capital expenditures where possible and minimizing overhead cost,” he said. “We are working to be in a position not only to survive the economic downturn, but also to take advantage of opportunities that will undoubtedly be present.”

Regarding the company’s strategy during the downturn, Thomas commented, “Our main focus now and our number priority until the global economic picture becomes clear is capital preservation and creation.” He pointed out that the company has implemented a plan to reduce its cash expenditures and to effect other measures to preserve capital through the end of 2011. The plan calls for deferring elective capital expenditures, reducing development activity and reducing capital required for new investments.

As part of the plan, Thomas has trimmed its overhead through personnel reductions, freezing salaries, reducing bonuses and cutting its budget for other overhead items. It has also decided to cut its dividend by more than 80% from 26 cents per year to five cents per year. “Since we’re not a REIT, but a C-corporation, we do not have the issues REITs have in cutting dividends,” Thomas pointed out. He explained that dividend cuts are difficult for REITs because they are required to distribute 90% of their earnings, whereas Thomas is not required to make any distributions.

Thomas described the company’s capital preservation strategy as a “contingency plan,” explaining that he used the word contingency because “If the market returns before the three year period (of the plan), we will return to our normal strategy.” The contingency plan anticipates, among other things, that Thomas will exercise all of its debt extension options for the properties for which it has such options and that it will be able to extend debt maturities on the properties where it doesn’t have options right now.

Thomas reported that the overall occupancy rate of the company’s portfolio decreased from 86.7% at the end of the third quarter to 85.3% at the end of the fourth quarter. Of its 25 properties, 11 increased occupancies, seven remain unchanged and seven decreased.

For the fourth quarter, the company lost $5.9 million and 25 cents per share, compared to a loss of $1.5 million and seven cents per share for the three months ended Dec. 31, 2007. For the full year in 2008, it lost $3.7 million and 16 cents per share, compared with a loss of $903,000 and four cents per share for 2007.

The company noted that its 2008 losses Included a pre-tax, non-cash impairment charge of $12.2 million related to its Murano condominium project, where the units are completed and held for sale. It reported after-tax cash flow of $1.2 million and five cents per share for the fourth quarter, compared with after-tax cash flow of $4 million and 17 cents per share for the fourth quarter last year–and after tax cash flow of $23.2 million and 98 cents per share for the yeaer ended Dec. 31, compared with $21.6 million and $1.04 per share for 2007.