Mills Corp. ( MLS) shares plunged 16% Tuesday after the mall owner said it could face a liquidity crisis by the end of March.The real estate investment trust also said its restatement of past financial results will reduce shareholders' equity by up to $352 million. Mills, which has been a disaster for investors over the past year and a half, is trying to sell itself amid a barrage of shareholder lawsuits related to the ongoing financial restatement. Shares recently were down $3.09 to $15.85. The company, in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing detailing its internal probe, said its cash from operations and potential land sales won't be sufficient to allow the company to continue running beyond the end of March, when the company's extended term loan with Goldman Sachs ( GS) will expire. Mills said if it cannot pay off the term loan by then, it could be forced to file for bankruptcy protection. Mills noted numerous accounting errors uncovered under its audit committee investigation, but did not provide the specific financial impact to past net income. Mills did say that its "rapid growth, and the complex financial structure of its business, exacerbated the number of such errors."
The effect on shareholders' equity is tremendous. According to the filing, the $352 million charge amounts to 33% of current shareholder equity. Mills' filing also shows that the company had $4.9 billion of consolidated debt at the end of 2006. The accounting errors will reduce shareholder equity to about $658 million. That means the company now has a whopping debt-to-equity ratio of 7.4 times. The news could deter any immediate sale plans for the company. Some investors had expected
a sale of the company to occur by the end of last year to Simon Property Group ( SPG) or institutional investors.