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CapitaLand under continued business pressure, but looking for growth openings

It's managing costs and plans to divest non-core assets; H1 profit tumbles 89% to S$96.6m

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The developer has some 1,800 units in the pipeline; 700 units are from the redevelopment of Liang Court, which is expected to be launched next year.

Singapore

WHILE CapitaLand expects continued pressure on its business in H2 2020 amid the ongoing pandemic, it is cautiously optimistic that the worst is over and is on the lookout for counter-cyclical opportunities to bolster growth.

For the six months ended June 30, the real estate group's net profit sank 89 per cent year on year to S$96.61 million, weighed down by the impact of Covid-19 on its retail and lodging businesses as well as revaluation losses on investment properties.

Revenue for H1 declined 4.9 per cent to S$2.03 billion, as it doled out S$158.6 million in rent rebates to its tenants in Singapore, China and Malaysia.

The topline was also weighed down by lower contributions from the group's malls, residential projects in Singapore and China and its lodging businesses. Fee income remained resilient, rising from S$275.1 million a year ago to S$307 million.

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Earnings per share fell sharply to 1.9 Singapore cents for the period under review, down from 21 cents a year ago.

The group chief executive officer of CapitaLand Group, Lee Chee Koon, noted that the group's balance sheet remains strong. He added: "We are on an active lookout for counter-cyclical opportunities that will strategically uplift CapitaLand's growth trajectory."

The real estate giant has more than S$14 billion in cash and available undrawn facilities, which it said will help it get though the downturn and provide dry powder.

Its S$3 billion annual capital recycling target remains unchanged, although progress slowed in H1 2020 because of the pandemic. In the second half of the year, CapitaLand plans to focus on divesting non-core assets, which could include retail assets in non-core markets.

It emphasised, however, that it does not plan to sell assets at distressed prices.

Meanwhile, amid the ongoing pandemic, the group is deferring unneccessary capital expenditure and has taken efforts to manage staff costs.

Since April 1, its board members and senior management have taken cuts of 5 and 15 per cent in their board fees and base salary respectively; employees at managerial level and above have had their wages frozen.

Speaking at a virtual webcast on Friday morning, Mr Lee said: "The company's philosophy is that in times of crisis, we cut costs to save jobs and not cut jobs to save costs. Having said that, we need to run a competitive company. Reorganising ourselves to make sure we are competitive and relevant for the future is something we will do in both good and bad times. It's not just dealing with the crisis. It's preparing the company for the future." He added that this could include considering whether to outsource certain functions and assessing employee performance.

In H1 2020, the group racked up cost savings of S$154 million compared to the same period a year ago; it is targeting to save over S$200 million from reduced operating costs and capex for 2020 as a whole.

In response to a question on how demand for office space might shift post-Covid, Mr Lee said that he expects offices to remain relevant, although there could be some changes stemming from safe-distancing efforts and work from home (WFH) arrangements. He added: "Big companies may reduce space by 5 to 10 per cent to cater to some WFH arrangement but for now, it's hard to tell."

In H1 2020, the group sold 1,769 residential units in China worth 5.6 billion yuan (S$1.1 billion); it plans to launch more than 4,000 units by the end of the year.

In Singapore, it sold 35 residential units totalling S$60 million, although the circuit breaker forced developers to shutter sales galleries for most of the second quarter. To date, over 80 per cent of its existing launches in Singapore have been sold. The developer has some 1,800 units in the pipeline; 700 units are from the redevelopment of Liang Court, which is expected to be launched in 2021.

In retail, the group said that footfall and sales showed gradual improvement from Q2 across its four retail markets - Singapore, China, Japan and Malaysia.

Nonetheless, it expects leasing and rental reversions to experience short-term pressure until there is greater certainty around controlling the spread of the virus. It has also been accelerating its digitalisation process, bringing more retailers onboard its CapitaStar programme so they can leverage the digital platform's one million and 11 million membership base in Singapore and China respectively.

Travel curbs continue to hurt its lodging business, but with 80 per cent of its lodging portfolio comprising serviced residences, the group has been better able to capture the demand for longer-stay facilities than most other hospitality segments, CapitaLand said. Average occupancy across its portfolio was 46 per cent in H1.

Citi Research analyst Brandon Lee expects H2 earnings to improve significantly, aided by residential handovers in China as well as the re-opening in its core markets, Singapore and China. He has a target price of S$3.78 for the counter.

CapitaLand shares ended Thursday at S$2.74, down 0.73 per cent or S$0.020.

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