Chattanooga-based CBL earnings up on higher occupancy, leasing

Chattanooga-based CBL earnings up on higher occupancy, leasing

November 6th, 2013 by Mike Pare in Business Around the Region

CBL Chief Executive Officer Stephen Lebovitz stands in his office overlooking Hamilton Place Mall

Photo by Chad McClure

Higher occupancy and double-digit leasing spreads helped lift third-quarter earnings at Chattanooga-based shopping center developer CBL & Associates Properties Inc.

Funds from operations per diluted share rose to 56 cents in the quarter, compared to 52 cents a year ago, the owner and operator of Hamilton Place and Northgate malls reported Tuesday after the close of the stock markets. CBL's results beat the consensus of analysts of 54 cents per share in the quarter.

Stephen Lebovitz, CBL's chief executive, said retailers continued to expand in its portfolio of market-dominated malls.

"The limited new supply in our markets and high rate of occupancy in our malls will enable us to offset the industrywide slowdown in retail sales performance this quarter," he said in a statement.

The nation's retailers continue to deal with turbulent sales, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers.

For the week ending last Saturday, retail sales declined by 0.6 percent, said ICSC and Goldman Sachs Weekly Chain Store Sales Index. It was the second consecutive weekly drop.

Michael Niemira, ICSC vice president of research and chief economist, said business improved for drug stores, department stores, wholesale clubs and furniture stores while it was weaker for grocers, discounters, and operators of dollar, apparel and electronics stores.

CBL reported that occupancy in the third quarter rose to 93.8 percent in its portfolio. The company owns, holds interests in or manages 156 properties, including 95 malls and open-air centers.

Also, average gross rent per square for stabilized mall leases signed in the third quarter increased 12.8 percent. In addition, same-store sales grew 0.9 percent, the company reported.

Looking ahead, CBL put 2013 FFO guidance at between $2.18 to $2.22 per share after adjustments.

The National Retail Federation expects sales in November and December to marginally increase 3.9 percent to $602.1 billion over 3.5 percent holiday season sales growth in 2012. The forecast is higher than the 10-year average holiday sales growth of 3.3 percent.

"Our forecast is a realistic look at where we are right now in this economy ­­- balancing continued uncertainty in Washington and an economy that has been teetering on incremental growth for years," said NRF CEO Matthew Shay in a statement. "Overall, retailers are optimistic for the 2013 holiday season, hoping political debates over government spending and the debt ceiling do not erase any economic progress we've already made."

CBL shares dropped 25 cents Tuesday to close at $19.44, or down 1.27 percent.

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6318.