May 11, 2020 / 8:32 PM / 2 months ago

Simon to reopen half of retail properties by next week amid tenant bankruptcies

(Reuters) - Simon Property Group (SPG.N), the biggest U.S. mall operator, said on Monday it would have about half of its over 200 retail properties in the country open within the next week, even as some of its major retail tenants struggle to say afloat

The company was forced to temporarily close all its U.S. retail properties in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, leading it to report over a 20% decline in quarterly profit and scrap its annual forecast.

Simon did not disclose the percentage of total rent it had collected in April or May, key figures investors were looking for as major retail tenants cut or pause monthly rent payments to shore up cash reserves.

Gap Inc (GPS.N), one of Simon’s biggest tenants, said in April it would save about $115 million per month by ceasing paying rent for its stores, while several other major retailers in the company’s malls are on the brink of collapsing completely.

J. Crew and Neiman Marcus filed for bankruptcy last week, while Reuters reported that J.C. Penney was preparing to do so and close about a quarter of its roughly 850 stores.

Simon’s Chief Executive Officer David Simon declined to discuss details of negotiations the company is having with tenants over reductions in rent, but hinted at some of the tension in talks.

“The bottom line is we do have a contract and we do expect to get paid”

Net income attributable to Simon’s shareholders fell 20.2% to $437.6 million, or $1.43 per share, in the first quarter ended March 31. Analysts had expected earnings of $1.65 per share, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.

Simon also said it suspended or eliminated more than $1 billion of capital expenditure meant for redevelopment and new construction projects.

The company said it had already reopened 77 retail properties in regions where the lockdown restrictions had eased.

Health experts have warned that reopening parts of the economies and public places too quickly may cause a new wave of COVID-19 infections, but Simon is confident that his malls would reopen safely.

“Unless you have science, don’t blame our openings on an increase in that community’s COVID,” David Simon, who sits on President Donald Trump’s advisory council tasked to help decide how to reopen the U.S. economy, said.

The company also said it will still declare a second quarter dividend and expects to pay out 100% of its taxable income in 2020 in cash.

Reporting by Uday Sampath in Bengaluru; Editing by Arun Koyyur and Shailesh Kuber

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