Property editor of the NZ Herald

Quake costs plague property investor

Photo / Geoff Sloan
Photo / Geoff Sloan

Earthquake worries are plaguing New Zealand's biggest listed property business, with concerns about its huge Christchurch and Wellington buildings.

Yesterday's annual meeting of unitholders in Kiwi Income Property Trust, with real estate valued at $2.16 billion, heard how the business was spending $35 million strengthening its 28-level, $67 million Wellington high-rise office tower the Majestic Centre on Willis St.

Kiwi's big PricewaterhouseCoopers Tower in Christchurch was now being demolished at the insurers' expense, $26.9 million of unitholder funds was written off and a $69 million insurance claim had been settled, unitholders heard.

But chief executive Chris Gudgeon said issues with Christchurch were still emerging and more work could be needed than was originally expected.

"We are dealing with the new stricter earthquake code now applicable here in Christchurch, where the earthquake loading standards were lifted by around 37 per cent in response to the earthquake events," Gudgeon said.

After that, Kiwi closed 14 shops at its 40,000sq m, $214 million Papanui Northlands mall, where it is spending $9 million. As further engineering assessments were completed, Gudgeon said more strengthening could be needed and an overhaul of the entire mall was on the cards.

"Where a significant strengthening requirement arises, we will look to undertake it potentially in conjunction with a partial redevelopment of the centre which would be designed to improve the retail offer and capitalise on the increased market share the centre now enjoys," he said, indicating that Northlands had gained at the expense of other damaged Christchurch malls.

Farmers' lease was due to expire in March 2016, its department store was undersized and had a compromised layout and a new store could be part of a redevelopment, Gudgeon said. A 10-year programme to upgrade the balance of Kiwi's portfolio could be needed and this might cost $30 million to $40 million.

Kiwi was encouraged by 85 per cent of its portfolio being in what Gudgeon called recovering property markets - Auckland's retail sector - particularly its $500 million Sylvia Park.

Retail sales in its centres were forecast to grow 2 per cent to 4 per cent and the trust had a 65 per cent weighting in shopping centres.

An after-tax distribution of 6.6c a unit is projected for 2013, subject to continuation of reasonable economic conditions.

Shane Solly of institutional investor Mint Asset Management said Kiwi was typically conservative in its outlook, which was fair because overall, New Zealand property conditions were okay, with medium-term potential for improvement.

"Kiwi has a busy workload over the next 12 to 18 months ... Importantly, it is in good financial shape to deal with this workload and weather an extended period of economic weakness if that should happen," Solly said.

Craig Brown, OnePath senior investment analyst, said the trust had delivered a solid result last year in difficult economic conditions, highlighting the relatively defensive earnings characteristics of such vehicles.

Kiwi also met the key strategic priorities outlined at last year's annual meeting and had done a great job managing its debt component and refinancing initiatives, Brown said.

The commercial property market had been hurt by Christchurch but Kiwi was relatively proactive in how it handled issues facing its portfolio.

"Overall we expect Kiwi to continue to deliver on the key strategic priorities in the current year and should provide a dividend in line with market expectation, albeit down slightly on the previous period," Brown said.

Kiwi's units traded around $1.09 yesterday, around the same levels as this time last year and up on June's $1.04.


Kiwi's problem buildings:
* PricewaterhouseCoopers Centre, Christchurch.
* The Majestic Centre, Wellington.
* Northlands Shopping Centre, Christchurch.
* Rest of portfolio: investigations under way.

- NZ Herald

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