CBL & Associates Properties Inc. on Tuesday posted fourth-quarter earnings that beat analysts' estimates, citing better operating results and a stronger balance sheet.
"As we move forward in 2011, we are more positive in our outlook," said Stephen Lebovitz, chief executive of the Chattanooga-based shopping center developer and operator.
If losses on real estate impairments are included in each quarter, CBL earned $75.4 million, or 54 cents per share, in the most recent period. A year ago, CBL posted a gain of $2.3 million, or 2 cents a share.
The consensus analyst estimate was that the real estate investment trust would earn 50 cents in the most recent quarter.
Excluding impairments, CBL posted funds from operations of $86.3 million, or 62 cents per share, in the fourth quarter.
A year ago, CBL earned $85.7 million, or 62 cents per share, according to the company.
Lebovitz said after the market's close that CBL pursuing growth strategies such as its announced outlet center joint venture and a renovation program at several malls, including its flagship Hamilton Place.
For the year, including impairments, CBL reported a gain of $258.2 million, or $1.87 per share. That's compared to $190 million, or $1.79 per share, in the prior year.
Tuesday, CBL shares closed at $17.94, up 20 cents, or 1.13 percent.
However, shares rose in early after-hours trading by more than 5 percent.
The International Council of Shopping Centers has reported that January retail sales nationally rose 4.2 percent over a year ago.
"Retailers weathered the storms in January, both literally and figuratively," said Michael Niemira, chief economist at ICSC, adding that the numbers suggest relatively healthy underlying consumer demand.
Goldman Sachs & Co. analyst Jonathan Habermann said in a research note for REITs that he expects a return of 5 percent to 10 percent this year after last year's 29 percent total return.
"At the same time, given the improving growth outlook for the U.S. economy combined with still low interest rates, we simply do not see significant downside for the shares," he said.
But, Habermann has downgraded CBL to "neutral" from "buy," saying near-term growth is limited and its stock is fairly valued.