Despite a struggling national retail sales picture, CBL & Associates Properties Inc. reported Monday that first quarter earnings climbed on higher occupancy and rents.
"We are seeing solid improvement in occupancy, net operating income, sales and leasing across the portfolio even with the tougher comparison from a year ago," said Stephen Lebovitz, the Chattanooga shopping center company's chief executive, in a statement.
After the close of the markets, CBL said funds from operations grew 8.2 percent to 53 cents per share, or $85.9 million, for the first quarter compared with 49 cents for the prior-year period.
That beat the average analyst estimate of 51 cents per share.
Portfolio occupancy rose to 92.2 percent from 91.8 percent a year ago, the company reported. Also, average gross rent per square foot in the first quarter increased 10.8 percent, according to CBL.
Kathy Grannis, a National Retail Federation spokeswoman, said that while overall sales are better than 2008 and 2009, they're far from robust.
"Right now, there are sluggish retail sales," she said, adding that there's barely year-over-year growth.
Grannis noted that the fiscal cliff negotiations and the Social Security payroll tax hike have affected consumer spending.
While that may continue for the next couple of months, she said NRF officials believe the second half of the year will improve as more jobs are created and people adjust to the payroll tax.
CBL reported that same-store sales climbed 4.4 percent to $355 per square foot for its mall tenants 10,000 square feet or less in the first quarter.
"The strong operating performance of our market-dominant mall portfolio in the first quarter coupled with the benefits of our new growth platforms have us well on the path toward achieving our 2013 goals," Lebovitz said.
He said the recent acquisition of the remaining interest in Kirkwood Mall in Bismarck, N.D., highlights that CBL's growth strategy can yield "a strong pipeline of profitable investment opportunities in this environment."
CBL is one of the largest owners and developers of malls and shopping centers in the United States. It owns, holds interests in or manages 158 properties in 31 states that total 92.7 million square feet.
CBL shares rose 17 cents on the New York Stock Exchange to $24.19, up 0.71 percent.