NEW YORK, Feb 4 (Reuters) - General Growth Properties Inc on Monday said a key measure of earnings rose 23.3 percent in the fourth quarter, beating Wall Street's forecast and helped by greater occupancy and sales at its malls.
The company said fourth-quarter funds from operations (FFO) increased to $312 million, or 31 cents per share, compared with $253 million, or 26 cents per share, in the year-earlier quarter.
Analysts on average had expected the company to post fourth-quarter FFO of 29 cents per share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
FFO is a real estate investment trust performance measure that usually excludes gains or losses from property sales and removes the effect of depreciation on earnings.
Since emerging from bankruptcy at the end of 2010, General Growth has culled its portfolio of properties down to its most productive malls. It ended the fourth quarter with 125 U.S. malls and 18 in Brazil, down from more than 200 properties in 2010.
During the quarter, William Ackman, head of hedge fund Pershing Square Capital Management, one of the top investors in the Chicago-based company, had urged the company to sell itself to Simon Property Group Inc, the No. 1 U.S. mall owner. A deal never materialized.
Ackman retreated last month after Brookfield Asset Management Inc which owns more than 40 percent of General Growth's shares, agreed to buy the General Growth warrants Pershing Square held.
Sales at stores its tenants' have operated at least a year rose 6.6 percent to an annual $545 per square foot on a trailing 12-month basis.
General Growth's U.S. mall portfolio was 96.1 percent leased at the end of the quarter, up 0.60 percentage points from a year earlier. The average base rent for new leases in 2012 rose 10.2 percent to $61.84 per square foot compared with expiring leases.
Earlier Monday, Simon reported fourth-quarter FFO that beat Wall Street's forecast, and said sales at its tenants' store also rose 6.6 percent to $568 per square foot.
For the full-year 2013, General Growth said it sees FFO in the range of $1.08 per share to $1.12 per share. Analysts had forecast $1.08 per share. The company sees first-quarter FFO in the range of 24 cents to 26 cents per share, compared with Wall Street's view of 24 cents per share.
General Growth shares were flat Monday, closing at $19.98 on the New York Stock Exchange and rose to $20.05 after hours.
The company is scheduled to hold a conference call with analysts on Tuesday morning.