New Zealand's biggest shopping centre owner has suspended dividends as well as its earnings outlook, citing market volatility due to the pandemic.
In a first quarter update, ASX-listed Scentre Group which owns 51 per cent of five of New Zealand's largest malls but has 42 malls in Australasia indicated times were too uncertain to be paying out the dividend.
The business just invested nearly $1 billion developing Westfield Newmarket which it opened before Christmas, with Auckland's first David Jones department store as well as other new-to-New Zealand brands.
Scentre is today trading at A$2.28, down from A$3.94 in November.
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The Australasian business had already suspended its earnings guidance for 2020, today referring to that as "considering the impact of Covid-19 and volatility in markets globally."
Given the uncertainty from the pandemic, its duration, the economic impact and the timing of operating cash flows for the group, it has now determined to not pay an interim distribution for the half-year to June 30.
"The group believes that retaining this capital will further strengthen its financial position and ability to continue to deliver long term returns to its security holders," it said.
Scentre has five New Zealand malls in a venture with Singapore's GIC: Westfields at Albany, Manukau, Newmarket, St Lukes and Riccarton.
The business said those properties were ready for the next level of activity: "In New Zealand, our centres are well prepared to move to Covid level 2."
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Scentre has assets under management of A$56b as at December 31 last year.
Last month, it announced Westfield Direct, a new drive-through, contactless click and collect service. That had now been fast-tracked "to offer a safe and easy solution for customers, enabling them to purchase products online from multiple Westfield retailers in one transaction and pick them up via contactless drive-through at their local centres", it said yesterday.
But the business told how customer numbers fell nearly 40 per cent recently - its Australian properties went into a less restricted mode than in New Zealand. Here, its malls were shut except for essential services such as pharmacies and supermarkets.
"As government restrictions were implemented, customer visitation reduced during March and April to a low of 39 per cent of the previous year's level," it explained.
When more retailers re-opened in Australia, customer numbers rose "and most significantly over this last weekend there was double the level of visitations from five weekends ago", the business said.
From Thursday, all shops will be able to open at the five Westfields in New Zealand, although with pandemic control measures.
Scentre's most popular and profitable New Zealand mall is Christchurch's 55,333q m Westfield Riccarton. That got 12.6 million annual shopper visits in the year to December 31, 2019 - more than any other owned by Scentre and GIC here.
Christchurch retailers in that mall made $531m total annual sales, down slightly on 2018's $536m. Average household income in that area is $85,322 and the mall has 193 retailers and 2400 carparks.
The 20.8ha site of Westfield Albany on Auckland's North Shore has a 53,326sq m mall, but Scentre has announced plans to spend about $600m there, building towers which could be for residential, commercial and hotel accommodation.