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US mall owners seeking relief from Trump during crisis

Washington

A TRADE group representing shopping-centre owners is urging the Trump administration to provide relief to retailers, restaurants and landlords as the novel coronavirus pandemic shuts down commerce around the US.

The government should guarantee or pay for business-interruption coverage, the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC) said on Tuesday in a letter to US President Donald Trump, Vice-President Mike Pence and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

Store closures "are placing an insurmountable strain on our members, and we believe federal government action is urgently needed", the group said in its letter.

The administration is discussing a plan that could amount to as much as US$1.2 trillion in spending - including direct payments of US$1,000 or more to Americans within two weeks - to blunt some of the economic impact of the widening Covid-19 outbreak.

"Without ensuring the stability of our tenant base, the repayment of up to US$1 trillion of secured and unsecured debt underlying the shopping centre industry will be at risk," ICSC chief executive officer Tom McGee wrote in the letter.

"This will jeopardise the entire industry and cause long-term damage to financial markets," he added.

US mall operators have seen their stocks nosedive more than the S&P 500 Index. In the past month, companies such as Simon Property Group and Macerich have fallen close to 60 per cent or more.

Retail-focused real estate is not the only industry lobbying for federal assistance. Executives from the hotel, lodging and gaming industry met Mr Trump on Tuesday and are seeking US$250 billion from the US government to help cope with what is essentially a travel shutdown. BLOOMBERG