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Simon exec: There's ‘no interest’ in buying General Growth

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A Simon Property Group Inc. executive said that the largest U.S. mall owner isn’t trying to acquire competitor General Growth Properties Inc., which announced Monday that it won’t put itself up for sale.

“We have no interest in General Growth,” Stephen Sterrett, chief financial officer of Indianapolis-based Simon, said Tuesday at a conference hosted by Barclays Plc’s investment-banking unit that was broadcast over the Internet.

Sterrett’s comments were the first a Simon Property executive has made about General Growth since investor Bill Ackman urged the Chicago-based company on Aug. 23 to consider a sale. Ackman, founder of Pershing Square Capital Management LP, said at the time that Simon had shown interest in a plan to buy General Growth.

Ackman, in an Aug. 27 letter to General Growth’s board, said Pershing Square made a 37-page presentation to David Simon, Simon Property’s chairman and CEO, about a proposed deal in which Simon would pay 0.1765 a share for each General Growth share. Based on Simon’s closing price Tuesday, General Growth would be valued at $27.84 a share.

General Growth shares fell 2.5 percent, to $20.09, in trading Tuesday. The shares have gained 8.5 percent since Aug. 22, the day before Ackman first said publicly that the company should put itself up for sale. Simon Property shares rose 1 percent Tuesday, to $157.74.

David Simon “expressed serious interest” in pursuing the deal, according to Ackman’s Aug. 27 letter. General Growth exited bankruptcy protection in November 2010 following a takeover battle between Simon and an investor group that included Brookfield Asset Management Inc. and Pershing Square, now General Growth’s two biggest shareholders. The mall owner filed for bankruptcy in 2009 after weighing itself down with $27 billion of debt.

Today, General Growth still has roughly $20 billion in debt and an equity value of $19.3 billion.

“There’s been a fair bit of speculation and inquiry lately about General Growth and our rumored interest in that company, and I think it’s important to respond and set the record straight,” Sterrett said Tuesday. “We have not made an offer for General Growth or its properties since 2010, during GGP’s bankruptcy, nor have we subsequently agreed on any value for the company.”

Simon said in May 2010 that it offered $20 a share for its competitor, which was under court protection from creditors at the time.

Ackman didn’t immediately respond Tuesday to a telephone message left at his New York office and an e-mail.

General Growth on Monday rejected Ackman’s call to put itself up for sale, a move supported by Brookfield.

“The board has unanimously determined that the best value for all shareholders will be achieved by GGP continuing to execute on its well-conceived business plan,” Sandeep Mathrani, General Growth’s CEO, said in a letter to Ackman that was filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Brookfield executives “agree with the position unanimously taken by GGP’s board,” J. Bruce Flatt, CEO of the Toronto-based real estate investor and chairman of General Growth, said Monday in a letter to the mall owner’s shareholders. “GGP is currently performing extremely well and we believe GGP is positioned for superior growth over the next five years versus any comparable retail mall investment.”

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