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The biggest mall owner in the US thinks it can turn around Forever 21

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Simon Property Group CEO David Simon

Anjali Sundaram | CNBC

The biggest mall owner in the U.S., Simon Property Group, said it has its work cut out for it, as it makes a bid to salvage bankrupted apparel retailer Forever 21. But it thinks it can turn things around.

“With Forever 21, we do think there is a business there,” Simon CEO David Simon said Tuesday morning during a call with analysts. “But it has to be turned around. … We’ve got our work ahead of us. But if we are successful … we will make money at Forever 21.”

Forever 21 said Sunday that it had reached an $81 million deal to sell its retail business to a group that includes Simon, U.S. mall owner Brookfield Property Partners and Authentic Brands. The company, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in September, said it is seeking approval to name the three as the lead, stalking-horse bidders in an auction.

Rival bidders still have until Friday to make any counteroffers. If other bids are made, an auction will be held on Feb. 10. Forever 21 is planning to seek approval of the sale by Feb. 11.

Simon is one of Forever 21’s biggest landlords, with dozens of stores across its malls.

The CEO on Tuesday walked analysts through how Simon made money when it bought teen apparel retailer Aeropostale out of bankruptcy court, with help from another mall owner and Authentic Brands, about three years ago, for $243.3 million. Simon had previously hinted that it was eyeing more deals like this.

“We make these investments for the sole purpose of we think there is a return on investment,” he said Tuesday. “We would not be attempting to do Forever 21 for the sole purpose of maintaining our rent.”

In the case of Forever 21, CEO Simon said it was rapid expansion that pushed the company over the edge.

“Forever 21 took its eye off the ball … primarily because of international growth,” Simon said. “Obviously, the store size … got too big.”

Simon reported fourth-quarter net income of $510.2 million, or $1.66 per share, compared with $712.8 million, or $2.30 a share, a year ago.

Its funds from operations, a metric used by real estate investment trusts that doesn’t include certain costs like depreciation, were $1.05 billion, or $2.96 per share, compared with $1.15 billion, or $3.23 a share, a year ago.

Simon said sales per quarter foot at its U.S. malls and premium outlets were $693 for the trailing 12 months ended Dec. 31, up 4.8% from a year ago.

It said its occupancy rate was 95.1% as of Dec. 31, down from 95.9% a year earlier.

Simon is now calling for net income for the year that ends Dec. 31, 2020, to fall within a range of $7.15 to $7.30 per diluted share, and FFO will be between $12.25 and $12.40.

Simon shares were last up more than 3%. The stock has fallen more than 25% over the past 12 months. Simon has a market cap of about $42 billion.



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