February 7, 2018 / 7:18 PM / 9 months ago

UPDATE 1-Klepierre focused on Europe in face of Unibail's Westfield move

(Recasts, adds comments from chairman)

By Alan Charlish

Feb 7 (Reuters) - French shopping centre operator Klepierre is not changing its acquisition strategy following Unibail-Rodamco’s $16 billion bid for Westfield Corp, its chairman Jean-Marc Jestin said on Wednesday.

“We have always said by conviction that to go outside of our territory did not seem to us like it would create value for our shareholders...the vast majority of our clients, European retailers, they are in Europe, very few are global,” Jestin said on an earnings call.

The Westfield deal gives Europe-focused Unibail-Rodamco exposure to the U.S. market, in a move calculated to help it counter the online shopping challenge led by Amazon.

Unibail-Rodamco posted results slightly above expectations in January.

Klepierre sees greater opportunities for synergies closer to home, Jestin said.

“You have even fewer synergies when you are in territories which are distant than those that are close.”

Klepierre said that improving consumer confidence in Europe had lifted sales at its malls, driving “intense” leasing activity and helping it to boost its cash flow in 2017.

It reported net current cash flow per share of 2.48 euros for 2017, up 7.4 percent year-on-year and broadly in line with its guidance of at least 2.45 euros per share.

INTENSE LEASING

While shopping centre operators face tough competition online, Klepierre has been helped by a euro-zone economy growing at its fastest rate in a decade, with consumer confidence at a 17-year high last month.

“We have a reduction in unemployment everywhere in Europe...and that will boost consumption in shopping centres,” Jestin said after Klepierre said leasing activity was “intense” in 2017, with 1,864 deals signed, up 8 percent year-on-year.

Klepierre said that it expects 2018 cash flow of 2.57–2.62 euros per share, which at the higher end of the range represents growth of 5.6 percent.

Although this would be slower than in 2017, Jestin said it was nevertheless possible Klepierre might beat its forecast.

“Historically it is true that Klepierre has beaten its objectives and so perhaps we will be in this situation again.”

The firm proposed a dividend of 1.96 euros ($2.40) per share for 2017, up 7.7 percent on the previous year. ($1 = 0.8151 euros) (Reporting by Alan Charlish; Editing by Adrian Croft)

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