(Reuters) - The owner of London’s Westfield shopping centres said on Wednesday it would massively trim down its U.S. presence and complete a remaining 3.2 billion euro-worth ($3.9 billion) of European asset disposals before the end of 2022.
Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield’s (URW) new management team is looking to sell real estate to tackle long-term debt problems amid the financial fallout of coronavirus lockdowns.
“At the end of the day, the exposure to the U.S. will be minimal, if not zero,” the group’s new chief executive, Jean-Marie Tritant, said in a call with journalists.
Tritant, who previously ran URW’s U.S. business, took the top job in January after a group of rebel investors won shareholder support in a push for a more European focus.
The United States accounted for 28% of the group’s net rental income from shopping centres in 2019 - the second-biggest contributor after France.
The CEO said the company was “100% committed” to retaining the two London Westfield malls, considering them its best assets in Europe and among the top globally.
Unibail, which had gross financial debt of 26.4 billion euros at the end of December, has been selling prime assets and taking out more long-term debt as it seeks to refinance its upcoming maturities.
With COVID-19 restrictions in place across almost all its markets, Tritant said he had “realistic expectations” for 2021 but was encouraged by the recovery of footfall and sales whenever restrictions eased last year.
URW - which also owns Forum des Halles in Paris and Madrid’s La Vaguada - did not give earnings guidance for 2021, due to COVID-19 uncertainties, but suspended its dividend payments for 2020, 2021 and 2022.
The commercial real estate company posted 2020 recurring net profit of 1.06 billion euros, down 40%, as a year of on-and-off store closures under lockdowns had a knock-on effect for mall owners due rent.
($1 = 0.8243 euros)
Reporting by Sarah Morland in Gdansk; Editing by Pravin Char
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.