* Q1 funds from operations up 3 pct
* Raises low end of full-year forecast
* Simon shares down sharply: GGP shrs down slightly (Rewrites first sentence, adds CEO quotes, updates stock price)
By Ilaina Jonas
NEW YORK, April 30 (Reuters) - Simon Property Group Inc (SPG.N), the largest U.S. mall owner, reported higher-than-expected first-quarter results, but its shares fell nearly 4 percent after it downplayed a potential deal with rival General Growth Properties Inc (GGP.N).
Simon has been trying to induce bankrupt rival General Growth to accept its plan to help the rival mall owner emerge from bankruptcy as an independent company. But Simon has not ruled out acquiring all of General Growth.
It is up against a General Growth-supported plan led by Brookfield Asset Management Inc (BAMa.TO), which would also help General Growth emerge as a stand-alone mall owner.
“We have been exclusively focused on that transaction,” David Simon, chairman and chief executive, said during a conference call with analysts. “So, if it so happens that there is nothing there for us, which is a distinct possibility, you know, I‘m very comfortable with the ability to grow our business externally.”
So far General Growth, has rebuffed Simon’s current offer, as well as an earlier one from Simon to buy the entire company.
At the end of the quarter, Simon had $3.6 billion of cash on hand and $3.2 billion available under its corporate credit line. It said if the deal with General Growth did not materialize, it would use some of its cash booty to pay down its own debt.
“When we look at deals, we look at what the value of the real estate is, not what we can pay for the real estate,” David Simon said.
Shares of Simon fell 3.4 percent, or $3.12, to $89.30 on the New York Stock Exchange on Friday afternoon. Shares of General Growth, which had been higher in early trade, dipped 8 cents to $15.86.
“People have read from his comments that Simon may not have a good shot of winning General Growth,” said Jeung Hyun, Adelante Capital Management portfolio manager..
”Clearly there are a number of shareholders or investors who are in the stock partly for that accretion that is going to come from that acquisition.
“For a company the size of Simon, if they don’t win the General Growth Properties bid, there are not that many sizable opportunities for the future.”
Simon reported on Friday that first-quarter funds from operations (FFO), excluding a debt-related charge, rose to $491.2 million, or $1.41 per share, from $476.8 million, or $1.61 per share, in the year-earlier quarter.
Including the debt-related charge, the company reported FFO of 94 cents per share.
Analysts, on average, were looking for 84 cents per share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
Net operating income, which reflects the cash the properties generate less expenses, rose 2.5 percent growth in the quarter. Sales at its malls and shopping centers rose 6.6 percent from a year earlier, the company said.
Although the consumer spending environment is improving, Simon said it has not seen a full-fledged return to stronger days and it still expects some stores not to renew leases when they expire this year.
The Indianapolis-based company owns or has an interest in 381 properties comprising 261 million square feet of leasable space in North America, Europe and Asia. It owns such well-trafficked malls as Roosevelt Field on New York’s Long Island and Sawgrass Mills Circle near Fort Lauderdale, Florida, as well as outlet centers such as Woodbury Commons, north of New York City.
General Growth owns more than 200 U.S. malls, some of which are the most productive in the nation.
For the full year, Simon raised the low end of its outlook for 2010 FFO per share and now sees $5.77 to $5.87, excluding the debt-related charge. That compares with its earlier outlook of $5.72 to $5.87,
Including the charge, the company sees FFO of $5.30 per share to $5.40 per share. FFO, a measure of performance, removes the profit-reducing effect of depreciation, a noncash accounting item. (Reporting by Ilaina Jonas; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Gerald E. McCormick)