June 27, 2019 / 3:37 AM / 6 months ago

Australia's Scentre sells Sydney towers to Blackstone for $1.1 billion

SYDNEY/BENGALURU (Reuters) - The owner of Westfield-branded shopping malls in Australia, Scentre Group, announced on Thursday the sale of three city-center towers in Sydney for A$1.52 billion ($1.06 billion) and an A$800 million share buyback.

The news prompted Scentre shares to swing from a loss to stand as much as 2% higher by mid-afternoon in a broadly steady wider market.

The Australian company said it sold the retail and office towers in the central business district to funds run by U.S.-based private-equity firm Blackstone Group.

With the sale of a half stake in another Sydney Westfield shopping center for about A$575 million last month, the deal takes to A$2.1 billion the total cash raised by the company in recent weeks, Scentre said in a statement.

Scentre was part of Westfield Corp until the companies split in 2014. At the time, Westfield was the world’s biggest mall owner.

Scentre, which has a market capitalization of A$21 billion, said proceeds of the latest sale would be used to pay off debt and to buy back the company’s shares.

The family of Frank Lowy, who founded Westfield in Sydney in the 1960s, owns about 4% of Scentre, according to its most recent annual report.

The family also owned about 10% of Westfield until they agreed to a 2018 buyout by European rival Unibail Rodamco, which is now called WFD Unibail Rodamco NV.

Scentre’s downtown Sydney assets include the distinctive Sydney Tower, the city’s tallest structure, which the company said it would keep.

($1=1.43 Australian dollars)

Reporting by Byron Kaye in SYDNEY and Rashmi Ashok in BENGALURU, Editing by Sherry Jacob-Phillips and Neil Fullick

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