June 1, 2020 / 2:40 AM / a month ago

Australian mall giant Vicinity to raise $932 million in virus cash dash

SYDNEY/BENGALURU (Reuters) - Australian No. 2 shopping mall manager Vicinity Centres (VCX.AX) cancelled its dividend on Monday and said it planned to raise A$1.4 billion ($932 million), underscoring pressure on the retail sector from the new coronavirus outbreak.

The operator of 70 malls said it would ask corporate investors for A$1.2 billion and retail shareholders for another A$200 million to ensure “flexibility to respond to the uncertainty caused by COVID-19 and the evolving retail landscape”, Chief Executive Officer Grant Kelley said.

The company, which has already withdrawn profit guidance, added that it would withhold an interim payout to stockholders because of upheaval brought by the virus which has infected millions of people around the world, prompting governments to order extraordinary restrictions on personal movement.

The capital raising ranks among the largest by Australian companies amid the coronavirus pandemic.

While Australia has seen relatively few cases with about 7,200 infections and 103 deaths by Monday, brick-and-mortar retailers have been among the worst affected companies with landlords like Vicinity forced to renegotiate leases to match a collapse in sales.

The manager of Westfield-branded malls in Australia, Scentre Group (SCG.AX), raised $1.5 billion on the United States bond market, while property developer Lendlease, which manages retail assets, raised A$1.21 billion in new shares, last month.

Kelley, the Vicinity CEO, said the company would likely cut the value of its assets by up to 13% or A$2.1 billion this month. The company was still negotiating with tenants, and stabilisation of rent income “remains uncertain”.

The company said foot traffic had improved since April when a stay-home order was still in effect. With restrictions lifting, traffic was 74% of its year-earlier level, compared to 50% in April.

Ratings agency Moody’s said Vicinity’s measures would help the company but “downside risk remains as the retail sector, which was already facing structural and cyclical headwinds, will likely see earnings and demand decline amid weak consumer sentiment, high unemployment and rising e-commerce penetration”.

($1 = 1.5022 Australian dollars)

Reporting by Byron Kaye in Sydney and Anushka Trivedi in Bengaluru; Editing by Stephen Coates and Christopher Cushing

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