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April 17, 2009

A recessionary tale

Picture this: It's 2004 and you have the chance to buy some nice real estate. It would mean a lot of debt, but why not, you think? Interest rates are low. Economy's good. Property values are rising. Then fast-forward to 2009. Recession. Values falling. Your short-term loans have come due and banks don't want to refinance you.

What do you do?

If you're General Growth Properties, you file for bankruptcy. Which is just what the company did Thursday.

Chicago-based General Growth bought the Rouse Co. in 2004, getting Columbia, Harborplace & The Gallery, local malls and office space into the bargain. I was covering Rouse at the time, and the executives talked about it as an inevitable sort of thing: Big companies keep acquiring until there's nothing else they can acquire, and then they themselves get bought out. But I wonder if -- had General Growth and Rouse stayed independent -- both companies would have been better off today.

Jay Hancock opines in his column that founder Jim Rouse wouldn't have gotten into this trouble:

He never borrowed too much or risked the franchise to get a couple percentage points less on the mortgage. ... James Rouse took risks with malls and marketplaces, not finances. General Growth Properties did the opposite.
Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 10:39 AM | | Comments (2)


Is this the beginning of the Commercial real estate collapse? General Growth certainly isn't the only company that will have short term notes coming due when retail and office vacancies are high. I expect we will see a lot more like this.

Not sure if you have seen the stock market lately. Recovery has begun! New bull market! No more problems! Borrow! Buy! Pretend! All debts forgiven!

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About Jamie Smith Hopkins
Jamie Smith Hopkins, a Baltimore Sun reporter since 1999, writes about the regional economy. Her reporting on the housing market has won national and local awards. Hopkins is a Columbia native and has lived in Maryland all her life, save for 10 months spent covering schools in Ames, Iowa.
She trained to become a wonk by spending large chunks of time as a geek and an insufferable know-it-all.
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