Scentre Group's NZ shopping mall sell off follows changed strategy, analyst says

Solly said it was not a reflection on the group's attitude but a changed group-wide strategy to own regional malls rather than sub-regional.

The sale of Scentre Group's four remaining 100 percent-owned Westfield shopping malls in New Zealand follows a change in strategy by the Australian parent, says Harbour Asset Management analyst Shane Solly.

The Australasian shopping centre owner has placed the four malls, WestCity, Glenfield, Chartwell, and Queensgate, on the market for expressions of interest though there is no sale agreement in place yet. The move follows its $2.1 billion deal, announced in November, to sell 49 per cent sale of its other five Westfield malls to the Singaporean Government Investment Corporation.

Solly said it was not a reflection on the group's attitude to New Zealand but a changed group-wide strategy to own regional malls rather than sub-regional - for example, Sylvia Park (which it doesn't own) rather than Pakuranga. One is a destination mall where people will travel large distances to go to while the other tends to be where the locals pop down to when they want to top up on something, he said.

"They've focused on what they see are the better opportunities and are selling their smaller assets that don't fit the strategic bill," Solly said.

Some of the proceeds are likely to be earmarked for planned redevelopments at St Lukes, Albany and Newmarket, he said.

Solly saw no shortage of buyer interest in the smaller malls, of which Queensgate in Lower Hutt is the largest, given the New Zealand assets have been trading well, New Zealand's economy remains strong, and the country is seen as easy to invest in by international purchasers.

In a emailed response, Scentre Group said "it remains very much business as usual for the centres."

The ASX-listed group, which operates 47 malls in Australia and New Zealand, today posted a net profit of A$1.3 billion for the six months ended Dec.31, which included revaluations of A$648.9 million. The group was set up at the end of June 2014 following the merger of the Australian and New Zealand operations of Westfield Group with the Westfield Retail Trust and comparisons, therefore, can't be made with the previous year.

Funds from Operations (FFO), the preferred measure for the retail property industry, was A$578 million and the group said the improved retail conditions were expected to continue this financial year with forecast FFO growth of 3.5 percent. Over the last quarter comparable sales in New Zealand were up 2.2 percent while they rose only 1.6 percent in Australia.

Islamic terrorist group, Al-Shabab, has urged its supporters to attack Westfield malls around the world and Westfield management said while there was no evidence of an imminent threat, it will take steps to keep its shopping malls safe.

(BusinessDesk)