It's a question for the ages: What's in a name? Well, in the real estate industry, it turns out that sometimes a name contains a heaping portion of irony.
General Growth Properties, Inc. - the nation's second-largest shopping mall owner - has filed the largest real estate bankruptcy in US history after racking up $27 billion in debt to finance its meteoric . . . growth. The move comes after the company spent months trying to refinance the massive debt it incurred while gobbling up commercial property companies.
After spending billions to grow into its place among the top retail property owners, the company was slammed by the credit crunch. Banks stopped lending, commercial real estate prices fell, retail sales dropped precipitously as consumers kept an eye on their budgets, frogs fell from the sky and lightning bolts rained down upon shopping malls as the economic apocalypse began.
After banks refused to rework the debt, the company had no choice but to go to Chapter 11 to deal with its maturing obligations to creditors.
Despite the biblical series of misfortunes the company suffered, General Growth's president, Thomas Nolan, said that the company hopes to use Chapter 11 to come out as a profitable, less-leveraged business. He pointed out his belief that the company's business model was strong.
Can that be true, though? Can a company sustain a pattern of giddy acquisitions? Or is the company emblematic of the overall hubris that gripped real estate financing immediately before the current economic crisis? Will retail sales ever recover enough to make mall ownership profitable, or have American consumers learned that extreme consumerism supported through high debt and low savings isn't sustainable?