General Growth Properties: Takeover Tumult, Redux

It's deja vu all over again. General Growth Properties (NYS: GGP) , the No. 2 mall REIT in the United States, may be considering being purchased by a competitor -- at the behest of a major stockholder.

Now, General Growth is shopping for an investment bank -- but no one knows whether it wants help with the acquisition or needs assistance formulating a defensive strategy against it.

From bankruptcy to the belle of the ball
General Growth declared bankruptcy in the spring of 2009, after building up debt of $27 billion that became impossible to refinance. In early 2010, Simon Property Group (NYS: SPG) , the biggest mall owner, made an unsolicited $10 billion bid to purchase the company, which was quickly rebuffed by General Growth's management. The company emerged from bankruptcy later that year with investment from Canada's Brookfield Asset Management (NYS: BAM) and Pershing Square Capital Management.

In late 2011, Pershing's manager, Bill Ackman, engineered a meeting with Simon to discuss a takeover of General Properties. Ackman is only the second-largest stakeholder in the company, with a stake of nearly 11%. Brookfield owns over 42% and nixed the deal, indicating that it might want to buy General Properties itself, though it never did.

Then, this past spring, Brookfield made an offer to purchase General Properties by selling 68 of the REIT's malls to Simon. Simon didn't bite.

Today, Brookfield publicly states that it neither wants to sell its stake in the REIT, nor buy it outright. In the meantime, it seems that Ackman has had enough. Last month, he penned a letter to the company's Board of Directors, requesting that a special committee be convened to look into a sale that would not unfairly favor Brookfield -- which Ackman obviously feels will continue to acquire GGP stock until it gains control over the whole kit and caboodle.

Through all of this, General Properties has been growing. In February, the REIT purchased 11 Sears (NYS: SHLD) stores for a cool $270 million, but paid the bulk of that price, $250 million, for the anchor store at General Properties' own Ala Moana Center mall in Honolulu, Hawaii. The shopping center is considered one of the country's most profitable, and the company has recently indicated that it will try to buy back the store's lease from Sears for $500 million in order to redevelop the square footage into prime shopping space.

One Fool's take
It's difficult to put too much stock into this most recent round of intrigue, despite Ackman's aggressive stance. The companies involved have always tried pressure to get their way, and General Properties' board may have had enough, and just might put the issue to rest once and for all.

Still, the infighting has driven up the stock price, and many analysts see a purchase by Simon as a good thing, as long as the company pays a fair price. Whatever happens, it looks like profitable days ahead for investors of this coveted mall REIT.

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