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SAO PAULO, Nov 16 (Reuters) - Brazil's largest shopping mall operator BR Malls said it will continue offering discounts to retain tenants and shore up occupancy, which hit the lowest level in at least nine quarters amid Brazil's prolonged economic downturn.
Chief Financial Officer Frederico Villa said on a Wednesday conference call that the strategy would be in place through at least the fourth quarter, even if it meant a reduction of leasing spreads, which compare average old rent values with new values for contracts covering the same mall space.
The strategy of keeping discounts signaled management's expectations that occupancy levels will rise next year, when the economy could recover provided the central bank keeps cutting interest rates.
"Our reason for doing that is to safeguard the company's sustainability in the long run," said Villa, referring to the discounts. Occupancy rates in the malls the company operates hit 95.5 percent last quarter, more than two percentage points below a peak level in the final quarter of 2014.
Rio de Janeiro-based BR Malls will keep renovating contracts and lowering rents at all malls, not only ones with higher vacancies, Villa said, adding that discounts will be less frequent as the economy improves.
Leasing spreads slumped 21.3 percent last quarter from the same period a year earlier, the company said on Monday in its earnings statement.
BR Malls, which operates or has stakes in 45 malls in Brazil, acknowledged net revenues were negatively affected by discounts in past quarters, but said the trend should continue until store owners "reestablish their financial health and rent delinquencies fall."
Despite the challenging economic scenario, BR Malls posted 35.5 million reais of net income last quarter, compared with a net loss of almost 220 million reais in the same period last year after significantly reducing general, administrative and financial expenses.
BR Malls shares rose 0.76 percent in early afternoon trading in São Paulo, extending year-to-date gains to almost 25 percent. (Reporting by Ana Mano; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Meredith Mazzilli)