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Simon Property's revolving loan signals overseas deals

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Simon Property Group Inc., the world’s largest real estate investment trust, has increased its firepower for potential global expansion with a $2 billion revolving line of credit in six currencies.

The biggest U.S. shopping mall owner, whose properties include King of Prussia Mall in Pennsylvania and Roosevelt Field Mall in Garden City, N.Y., has $6 billion of borrowing capacity under two revolvers, including the new unsecured credit line announced June 1. International properties made up about 5.4 percent of the Indianapolis-based REIT’s leasable area at the end of December, according to a Feb. 28 U.S. regulatory filing.

The new loan allows Simon to borrow in U.S., Canadian and Australian dollars, as well as euro, yen and British pounds, which may indicate it’s preparing for international expansion, according to Rich Moore, an analyst at RBC Capital Markets in Solon, Ohio. Simon, which owns or has interests in 245 million square feet globally, bought a $2 billion, 29-percent stake in French retail property owner Klepierre SA in March.

“They’re trying to create more dry powder for further investments,” Craig Guttenplan, a London-based analyst at CreditSights Inc., said. “They have virtually no exposure to Australia, so that could be telling.”

The Australian dollar is a new currency in the latest credit line, according to Guttenplan. It would make sense to fund any investment in local currency to hedge against exchange-rate fluctuations, he said in an e-mail.

“We have no plans to invest in Australia,” Les Morris, a spokesman for Simon, said in an e-mail. He declined further comment on the matter.

Simon’s total debt grew to $14.6 billion at the end of 2004 from $9.5 billion in 2002 after purchases that included mall interests from Rodamco North America NV, the $3.5 billion acquisition of outlet developer Chelsea Property Group Inc. and a stake increase in mall owner Kravco Investments. Its debt reached $22.8 billion at the end of this year’s first quarter, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

That brought leverage, as measured by the ratio of total debt to trailing 12-month earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization to 7.4 times, the highest since the first quarter of 2007, the data show.

Its funds from operations, a measure of a property company’s ability to generate cash, climbed to $648.7 million, or $1.82 a share, in the first quarter, from $570.6 million, or $1.61, a year earlier. That exceeded $1.68 a share, the average of 20 analyst estimates compiled by Bloomberg. Simon’s revenue jumped 9.7 percent, to $1.12 billion.

The company, which has an A3 investment-grade rating from Moody’s Investors Service and an equivalent A- at Standard & Poor’s, lifted its full-year profit forecast to $7.50 to $7.60 a share in an April 27 statement from a March range of $7.35 to $7.50.

“They’ve grown a lot in the past couple years,” said Guttenplan, adding that Simon may be angling to expand in outlet center properties in the U.S. and abroad.

“The consumer is not in the best of shape in many markets,” said Guttenplan, adding that cash-strapped shoppers have been looking for bargains at outlet centers instead of typically more expensive regional malls. “It’s a cheaper kind of place for them to shop. Consumers seem to be flocking to them,” he said.

Simon and BR Malls Participacoes SA, based in Rio de Janeiro, said in April they formed a joint venture to develop outlet centers in Brazil. In March, Simon said it agreed to develop an outlet mall in the Pudong area of Shanghai with Bailian Group, a retail-property operator in China.

In the U.S., Simon is planning to open two new premium outlets this year in Merrimack, N.H., and south of Houston, David Simon, the company’s chief executive, said on an earnings call with analysts in April.

Simon had 5.7-percent year-over-year growth in net operating income from U.S. malls and outlet comparable properties during the first quarter, according to CreditSights.

Australia may be a good place to invest because its heavily commodities-based economy has experienced strong growth over the past several years, said Guttenplan.

The real estate market there is dominated by a “handful” of companies, particularly Westfield Group and Westfield Retail Trust, he said.

At the end of the first quarter, Simon had “ample” liquidity, with $881 million of cash and $1.9 billion drawn under its $4 billion revolver, according to an April 29 report from debt researcher CreditSights.

That revolver has a $2 billion portion that can be drawn in U.S. and Canadian dollars, as well as euro, yen and British pounds, according to Guttenplan.

Simon may be trying to “stagger” the maturity of its unsecured debt so it doesn’t all come due at once, he said. The original revolver is due in 2015 and the new credit line expires in 2016, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

“What this new credit facility is, is the addition of tremendous liquidity to the company,” Cedrik Lachance, a managing director at Green Street Advisors Inc. in Newport Beach, Calif., said in a telephone interview. “It could serve an offensive or defensive purpose.”

Simon could use the money for acquisitions or to substitute for other forms of borrowing if credit becomes harder to obtain, Lachance said. “They’re simply being smart about all potential outcomes that no one can see,” he said.

Simon became the biggest shareholder in Klepierre, Europe’s second-largest publicly traded mall operator by value, after buying its stake from BNP Paribas SA. BNP retains 22 percent. Unibail-Rodamco SE is the largest listed European mall company.

“Investing in Klepierre was a big move in Europe,” said Guttenplan. “It’s one of the bigger deals they’ve done in a long time and they have room to grow their investment.”

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