- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 17, 2009

LOS ANGELES (AP) - Troubled shopping mall owner General Growth Properties Inc. said lenders have waived default on a $2.58 billion credit agreement until the end of the year, allowing the company some time to regain its financial footing.

But its Rouse Company unit extended the expiration date on a request for forbearance on another more than $2 billion worth of debt, after it failed to convince enough of its bondholders to give it more breathing room.

General Growth said it has received enough consents from lenders under its 2006 corporate credit agreement, which includes a $1.99 billion term loan and $590 million revolving credit facility, to extend a forbearance agreement currently in place through the end of 2009.

But the Chicago-based real estate investment trust, struggling to stave off a Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing, also had asked holders of $2.25 billion worth of bonds last week to put off calling in payments until the end of this year while it tries to refinance its debt load.

That consent solicitation, launched by Rouse, was set to expire at 5 p.m. EDT on Monday, but the company said it has extended the offer until 5 p.m. Friday because it only received enough consents from holders of its 7.20 percent notes due 2012 and 6.75 percent notes due 2013.

General Growth needed 90 percent of holders of its 3.625 percent and 8 percent notes due this year to agree to not demand payment of principal and interest on the debt for the rest of 2009. Interest on the bonds would still accrue. It also required 75 percent of holders of its 7.20 percent notes due in 2012 and 5.375 percent and 6.75 percent notes due in 2013 to agree, in order for the forbearance agreement to take effect.

But by Monday’s deadline, only about 42 percent of the holders of its 3.625 percent notes and just 59 percent of its 8 percent noteholders had agreed to the terms. It nearly cleared the hurdle with holders of its 5.375 percent notes, coming up just 6 percent short.

Meanwhile, a total of $395 million in unsecured bonds issued by the unit came due Sunday. It’s unclear whether or not those lenders will call in the debt, which could force General Growth into bankruptcy, given its lean cash reserves. Another $200 million is set to come due on April 30.

Calls to spokesman Tim Goebel were not immediately returned Monday.

General Growth, which has a stake in more than 200 malls across 44 states, has seen its fortunes sour as the U.S. economy worsened.

The company has suspended its dividend, halted or slowed nearly all development projects and cut its work force by more than 20 percent. Its stock has been pummeled, dropping from above $44 a share to well under $1 in the past 12 months.

But the main problem has been a scarcity of credit for refinancing the billions in debt it took on during an aggressive expansion effort that included the $7 billion purchase of a competitor in 2004.

In recent months, the company has sought to get lenders to rework its debt terms but warned last fall it might have to seek bankruptcy protection.

General Growth has said it has $1.18 billion of past due debt and about $4.09 billion worth of debt that could be called in. It also has an additional $1.44 billion worth of consolidated mortgage debt and about $595 million of unsecured bonds scheduled to mature during 2009 that remains to be refinanced, repaid or extended.

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On the Net:

General Growth Properties Inc.: http://www.ggp.com/

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