Blackstone to buy almost 600 shopping centers

Few shoppers walk through Randhurst Shopping Mall in Mount Prospect, Illinois.

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Kai Ryssdal: We learned this morning consumers had more money in their pockets in January. Personal income rose the most it has in two years, thanks in large part to the Social Security tax cut that was passed in December. And that, which the smart economic play goes means, we'll be spending more too.

Blackstone, the private equity group, will be spending $9.5 billion to buy the U.S. properties of a deeply indebted Australian company called Centro. To you and me, that means about 600 strip malls, housing stores like Kroger, Wal-Mart and Sears. Whether we're actually going to see fewer empty storefronts? Our New York bureau chief Heidi Moore reports.


Heidi Moore: Strip malls -- those long lines of stores on the side of the road -- have a reputation for being kind of depressing. But today, they may represent some optimism about the buying power of the American consumer.

George Kroculick is a real estate partner with law firm Duane Morris. He says the Blackstone deal today shows that prices for stores and office buildings -- or commercial real estate -- are rebounding. Buyers want to get in while there are still good deals.

George Kroculick: Yes, it's probably for what you would classify as a distressed situation, but it's still good given where we've been.

People familiar with Blackstone say the firm believes Americans will start shopping again -- and at the price it paid, Blackstone can wait.

Centro bought the shopping centers at the height of the real estate bubble and has been trying to sell them for over two years. The recession emptied out many storefronts starting in 2008. Landlords like Centro extended their loans as far as 2014 and pretended they would get the rents to pay them off to avoid bankruptcy.

Kroculick: We all made fun of the phrase 'extend and pretend,' but it's kind of working.

George Ratiu, an economist with the National Association of Realtors, says it was just a matter of waiting to allow the economy to rebound. Now, he says, things are going to get better.

George Ratiu: I would say commercial real estate is stabilizing, and if anything, the prospects for 2011 look fairly promising.

Of course, a lot of those extended loans on stores and offices come due around 2014. Let's check back then.

In New York, I'm Heidi Moore for Marketplace.

About the author

Heidi N. Moore is The Guardian's U.S. finance and economics editor. She was formerly the New York bureau chief and Wall Street correspondent for Marketplace.

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