Westfield-owner URW sees additional costs on new lockdowns, shares fall

FILE PHOTO: People walk by Westfield shopping centre in Shepherd's Bush, following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), London, Britain, May 26, 2020. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls

PARIS (Reuters) - Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield’s share price fell almost 4% on Monday after the mall operator said it would cap its 2020 and 2021 cash dividends and warned that new lockdowns in Europe would lead to additional costs and may affect fourth-quarter results.

In a statement late on Sunday, the owner of URW said its earnings took a 335.1 million euro ($390 million) hit from COVID-19 in the first nine months of the year, as it granted rent reliefs and saw a rise in “doubtful debtors”, mostly in Britain and the United States.

As a result, it expects 2020 AREPS (adjusted recurring earnings per share ) between 7.20 and 7.80 euros. It also capped its cash dividends to 250 million euros for 2020 and 2021.

Its shares were last down 2.2%, having fallen as much as 3.7% in early trade.

URW’s management said in September it planned to raise 3.5 billion euros to shore up its balance sheet and cut debt to cope with the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic when retailers were forced to shut business to help curb infections.

The plan drew opposition from a consortium of investors led by French billionaire Xavier Niel, founder of French broadband provider Iliad ILD.PA, and Unibail's former CEO Leon Bressler, who argued against the share increase and said Unibail needed to focus back on Europe.

“In October, a worrying increase in COVID-19 infections has led to a return of government restrictions, including renewed lockdowns, hence adding further uncertainty,” URW’s chief executive Christophe Cuvillier said in Sunday’s statement. He added that this “reaffirmed the necessity” of URW’s new plan.

The company said that new restrictions aimed at reducing the spread of the coronavirus might require the URW to grant additional rent relief to support tenants.

Reporting by Maya Nikolaeva; editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise