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Australian mall giant Vicinity to raise A$1.4b in virus cash dash

[BENGALURU] Australian No 2 shopping mall manager Vicinity Centres cancelled its dividend on Monday and said it planned to raise A$1.40 billion (S$1.32 billion), underscoring pressure on the retail sector from the new coronavirus outbreak.

The operator of 70 malls said it would ask corporate investors for A$1.20 billion and retail shareholders for another A$200 million to ensure "flexibility to respond to the uncertainty caused by Covid-19 and the evolving retail landscape", chief executive officer (CEO) Grant Kelley said.

The company, which has already withdrawn profit guidance, added that it would withhold an interim payout to stockholders because of upheaval brought by the virus which has infected millions of people around the world, prompting governments to order extraordinary restrictions on personal movement.

The capital raising ranks among the largest by Australian companies amid the coronavirus pandemic.

While Australia has seen relatively few cases with about 7,200 infections and 103 deaths as of Monday, brick-and-mortar retailers have been among the worst affected companies with landlords like Vicinity forced to renegotiate leases to match a collapse in sales.

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The manager of Westfield-branded shopping malls in Australia, Scentre Group, raised US$1.5 billion last month on the United States bond market. Property developer Lendlease, which manages retail assets, raised A$1.21 billion in new shares also last month.

Mr Kelley, the Vicinity CEO, said the company would likely cut the value of its assets by up to 13 per cent or A$2.10 billion later this month. The company was continuing to negotiate with tenants, and stabilisation of rent income "remains uncertain".

The company said foot traffic had improved since mid-April when a nationwide stay-home order was still in effect. With restrictions lifting, foot traffic was now 74 per cent of its level at the same time a year earlier, compared to 50 per cent in April.

Vicinity shares were in a trading halt on Monday while the capital raising was in progress.


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