Dark clouds swirl over NZ mall owner

By Anne Gibson

Trouble has hit one of New Zealand's largest shopping centre owners as the United States sub-prime credit crisis spreads.

Centro Properties Group, which has big malls in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, announced this week it was having difficulty refinancing A$1.4 billion ($1.59 billion) in debt.

The company is now reviewing its structure, and its expansion strategy in New Zealand could be under a cloud.

Centro has been one of the largest mall buyers in New Zealand this decade, snapping up a string of centres for many millions and thought until now to be hunting for more. It was tipped to be a possible buyer for Westfield's malls at Glenfield and Pakuranga.

Australian analysts this week predicted Centro would either have to sell assets, raise new equity or both.

Centro, an aggressive Melbourne-headquartered property owner, manages a vast international real estate empire valued at A$25.5 billion in New Zealand, Australia and the US.

Centro's largest mall here is the 17,995sq m Porirua MegaCentre in Wellington. In 2003, Centro bought this bulky goods complex with parking for 600 cars, giving it a large stake in the capital's real estate and retail fortunes.

In 2003, McS Property, part of the Centro Group, bought the 9825sq m Kelston Shopping Centre in Auckland.

This neighbourhood centre with parking for 408 vehicles was redeveloped in 1996 and has a Foodtown supermarket, McDonald's, Mobil service station and 20 shops.

Also in Auckland, Centro Retail Trust owns Meadowlands Shopping Centre on Whitford St in Howick.

In 2005, Centro paid Auckland investor Sudesh Jhunjhunwala $12.5 million for this centre.

Centro Retail Trust owns the Barrington Shopping Centre in Christchurch.

This 11,573sq m centre has a Warehouse, 32 shops and a large supermarket.

Centro's Australasian portfolio has regional, sub-regional, neighbourhood and bulky goods shopping centres.

In May, the Herald reported the two Auckland Westfield malls could go to any number of investors, including wholesale AMP funds, Centro or German investment funds.

Fallout hits

Centro shares trading around A80c, a record low.

Growth plans in the United States have been curtailed.

Centro was tipped as a buyer for two of Westfield's NZ malls.

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