William Ackman is about to take a bet on two of the hardest-hit sectors of the economy: housing and commercial real-estate development.

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William Ackman is about to take a bet on two of the hardest-hit sectors of the economy: housing and commercial real-estate development.

Ackman, who runs the hedge fund Pershing Square Capital Management, is one of the lead investors in a new company that Chicago-based General Growth Properties is spinning off as part of its bankruptcy reorganization. He also will be chairman of the new firm, a money-losing collection of partially built malls and housing developments.

While the stake in the company, to be known as Howard Hughes Corp., may someday prove lucrative, it may be difficult to value the spinoff’s real estate while the property market is in a slump and the timing of a rebound unclear. The company’s net asset value “can vary considerably in the hands of different investors,” wrote Andrew Rosivach, an analyst with Credit Suisse Group, in a Sept. 13 report.

“There’s value there, but the likelihood of this thing trading above its net asset value is pretty close to zero,” said James Corl, managing director of real-estate investments at private-equity firm Siguler Guff & Co. “A group of assets does not a strategy or a franchise make.”

Ackman’s role in the spinoff comes after Pershing, Fairholme Capital Management and Brookfield Asset Management teamed up to bring General Growth out of bankruptcy, defeating a takeover bid by rival mall owner Simon Property Group. The investor group committed as much as $6.55 billion as part of the restructuring plan, scheduled for court approval on Oct. 21 The spinoff is planned for early November.

“It’s a phenomenal collection of irreplaceable assets and they have a lot of long-term value,” said Ackman. Pershing Square will have about a 24 percent stake in the spinoff when General Growth, the second-largest U.S. mall owner, exits bankruptcy.

Hughes Corp.’s assets will include Summerlin, a 22,500-acre master-planned community in Las Vegas, the city with the highest foreclosure rate in the U.S. The development isn’t projected to sell out until 2039, according to a regulatory filing. Among other Hughes Corp. properties is South Street Seaport, a shopping center in Manhattan that General Growth tried to sell before the April 2009 bankruptcy.

“We acknowledge that, as a collection of assets, it will take time for people to get their arms around the value that’s in the portfolio,” said Thomas Nolan, General Growth’s president and chief operating officer. He declined to speculate on how the company’s shares may trade.

Both home sales and commercial real-estate development have been hammered by the economic slump. New home sales in August matched July as the second-lowest in data going back to 1963, U.S. Commerce Department data on Sept. 24 showed. Sales of previously owned homes were the second-lowest in records going back a decade, the National Association of Realtors said.

Commercial real-estate prices fell for a second straight month in July, sending the Moody’s/REAL Commercial Property Price Index 43 percent below its 2007 peak.

General Growth’s ties to billionaire aviator Howard Hughes, who died in 1976, stem from the company’s $11.3 billion purchase of Rouse Co. in 2004. Rouse had acquired the remaining Hughes assets, including about 22,500 acres of Nevada land, in 1996 and agreed to pay heirs and other shareholders over time. Debt from the Rouse takeover helped push General Growth into bankruptcy, the biggest in real-estate history.

Nolan said there is a perception among some stockholders that the separation of the traditional mall company from Hughes Corp. is a “good bank, bad bank” plan. That isn’t the case, he said. The spinoff’s investors are interested in building up the company and developing such assets as South Street Seaport, Nolan said.

“There is no intention other than putting the best long-term value creation plan together,” he said.

Unlike General Growth, Hughes Corp. won’t be a real-estate investment trust, according to a registration statement filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. REITs are required to distribute at least 90 percent of their income to stockholders, and investors buy shares mainly for the dividends.

“Your classic REIT investor is less likely to invest in Spinco,” said Cedrik Lachance, managing director at Green Street Advisors, a research firm in Newport Beach, Calif. Spinco was a temporary name before the Howard Hughes Corp. moniker was chosen for the spinoff. “What you’re buying is the hope that over a long period of time a large number of developments will prove successful.”

The real estate owned by Hughes Corp., after suffering in the slump, will bounce back eventually, said Mark Jacobs, a bankruptcy partner at Pryor Cashman in New York.

“These are classic contrarian investments,” said Jacobs, who isn’t involved in the General Growth case. “You’re buying something that has gotten what I consider to be an unjustified bad reputation for a low price, and you will ride it up.”

Pershing Square, based in New York, may hold its investment in Hughes Corp. for as long as 10 years, according to Ackman.

“We’re long-term investors,” he said.