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Shares of CBL & Associates Properties Inc. fell nearly 25% on Monday following a report that the Chattanooga shopping center operator may be preparing a bankruptcy filing.

Bloomberg, citing people who asked to not be identified, said CBL is negotiating with lenders in an effort to enter Chapter 11 bankruptcy with a consensual restructuring agreement in place. Such plans aren't final, however, and elements could change, Bloomberg reported.

Shares of CBL, which operates both Hamilton Place and Northgate malls in Chattanooga, closed Monday at 18.59 cents, down 5.93 cents per share, or a 24.18% drop in trading on the New York Stock Exchange. Monday's closing price was just above CBL's all-time low of 18 cents per share reached on April 1.

CBL had no comment on Monday.

Chris Kuiper, vice president of equity research at CFRA Research, said malls had been struggling and generally falling out of favor among shoppers, and then the coronavirus hit. Malls and retailers inside them were forced to close temporarily earlier this year.

"It went from bad to worse and then catastrophic," he said. "COVID has accelerated the trend."

One possibility for CBL is that it restructures its debt and ends up operating a few select malls, Kuiper said.

"You could see a small restructuring or liquidation," Kuiper said, with real estate going to big private equity firms which would try to turn the property into something more profitable.

Also, it's possible that another mall operator could buy CBL, he said.

Kuiper said the only mall company he sees as a potential buyer is Simon Property Group. But he said he doesn't think Simon, which specializes in top-tier or "Class A" malls, would want to pick up CBL's portfolio with includes many "Class B" properties.

In June, CBL said there was "substantial doubt" it will continue to operate as a going concern. In a regulatory filing with the government, the company cited the effect the pandemic had on "retail and broader markets, the ongoing weakness of the credit markets and significant uncertainties associated with each of these matters."

In May, the company posted a first quarter net loss of $133.9 million, compared to a net loss of $50.2 million a year ago.

Also in May, CBL reported it received just 27% of billed cash rents for April and its May collection rate likely will be in the 25% to 30% range amid closings during the outbreak.

"The majority of our tenants requested rent relief, either in the form of rent deferrals or abatements," said Stephen Lebovitz, the company's chief executive, in May. "We have placed a number of tenants in default for non-payment of rent."

CBL has in recent weeks twice extended time to secure an agreement with lenders related to the repayment of some of its debt.

In early July, the company said it was trying to work out a deal over a two-week period. Last week the company extended that time to this Wednesday.

"There can be no assurance, however, that the company will be able to negotiate acceptable terms or to reach any agreement with respect to its indebtedness," CBL said in an SEC filing.

The company has a portfolio of 108 properties in 26 states.

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.

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