Mort Zuckerman, the venerable real estate developer and media mogul, has a taste for urbanism.
He is attributing the strong fourth quarter and 2011 for his real estate investment trust Boston Properties Inc. (NYSE:BXP) to its focus on major cities.
We are in unique markets, he said during an earnings call on Wednesday. Those markets are cities.
Zuckerman, who also owns the New York Daily News and edits U.S. News and World Report, cited the company's namesake, Boston and neighboring Cambridge, as well as New York, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. as standout performers in the sluggish national economy.
He conceded that rents had dropped from the peak -- It is not the kind of exuberance we had for many, many years, he said -- but were still relatively strong.
Of course, the company's portfolio doesn't hurt.
Among Boston Properties' holdings are 601 Lexington Avenue, formerly the Citigroup Center, with its distinctive white sloping roof, and the massive General Motors Building at 767 Fifth Avenue, which also collects rent from the Apple Store, distinguished by its glass cube. In Boston, it owns John Hancock Tower, the modernist wonder by Pei Cobb Freed & Partners, where rents are projected to grow by up to 30 percent as leases come up for renewal, according to Boston Properties President Douglas Linde.
These are buildings that are the highest quality in the markets they're in, said Zuckerman.
But it isn't just blue chip tenants that are driving the company's leases. Biotechnology and new media firms have expanded greatly in Cambridge, and Amazon is looking to enter the market at around 30,000 to 40,000 square feet, said Linde.
The low interest rates, which Zuckerman said were the lowest he's seen in 50 years of business, should also bolster his company's outlook.
Boston Properties reported funds from operations of $1.21 per share, beating analysts' expectations of $1.19 per share. Occupancy rates were down slightly to 92.1 percent from 93.3 percent in the previous year. But fourth quarter rents were up 15 percent from the previous year to $452 million.
Zuckerman was less optimistic, however, about the national economy.
We have been bearish, he said, and believes it will take a minimum of two years, and more like three to five, to work through the overhang of debt. And no matter who is elected president, the eventual victor would be challenged to pass legislation, he said.
Share of Boston Properties were trading at $106.14, up 2.01 percent, after markets closed on Wednesday.