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Ackman: Still potentially a buyer for Howard Hughes

Howard Hughes Corp. undertook a "full-blown" sale process as part of its just-concluded strategic review and there seems to still be one potentially interested buyer, the company's leadership said on an Oct. 21 conference call.

Board Chairman Bill Ackman, the billionaire investor and hedge fund manager, said the company pursued both full sale and "majority transaction" scenarios, contacting 35 investors, including "likely suspects" such as the largest real estate private equity outfits, infrastructure funds, sovereign wealth funds and "very large" family offices.

There was "a lot of interest," he said, with 14 of the 35 entities undertaking "fairly deep" due diligence. Of that 14, eight emerged as "investors that would lead a transaction," with the remaining six potential co-investment partners.

"I think what attracted people to the company was a large pile of assets trading at a deep discount to their net asset value," he said.

One of the potential eight lead investors appears to still be interested in the company and has "sufficiently long-duration capital and the resources" to buy Howard Hughes, Ackman said.

"We do have a tentative meeting scheduled with the key principal of that company in the relative short term," he said. "But we really have no sense of their indication of value, whether they're going to make a proposal, whether that additional meeting will be kept because there have been some cancelled meetings in the past. We're sharing that information with you because it's difficult for us to handicap the probability of whether the investor comes forward, and whether they'll have something to say that will be interesting to the board and the company."

The other seven of the group of eight potential lead investors determined that they did not have the capital to execute a deal that would involve a large equity check and a long-term investment time horizon.

"They loved the business," Ackman said of the seven. "They had a much better appreciation of what Howard Hughes was after taking a deep dive. They loved the assets and thought we had an excellent management team. But unlike what they thought initially — which was, this is a buy-breakup-and-sell story — they realized that this was a real going concern and a multi-decade investment asset."