Westfield operator upbeat after HY profit

·2-min read

Westfield shopping centres operator Scentre has swung to a half-year profit of $400.4 million as customer traffic rebounded when lockdowns eased in the first half of the year.

It had posted a loss of $3.6 billion for the same period last year after writing down the value of its shopping centres in the initial stages of the pandemic.

By 1145 AEST on Tuesday, Scentre Group shares were up nearly four per cent at $2.65.

Revenue from its properties totalled $1.08 billion, down 1.2 per cent from the same period last year. The shopping centre giant has, in particular, been impacted by extended lockdowns in Sydney and Melbourne.

"We have delivered strong operating performance even with a number of government restrictions in place. In those locations impacted less by lockdowns, we have seen trading conditions better than those experienced in the first half of 2019," Scentre Group Chief executive Peter Allen said.

The company said it supported small and medium size retailers through appropriate rent deferral during the first half to lighten the short term cashflow impact of lockdowns on their business.

It collected $1.2 billion of gross rent during the first half of 2021, an increase of 37 per cent over the first half of 2020.

Total like-for-like in-store sales rose 0.9 per cent, despite declines of 4.6 per cent in NSW and 5.2 per cent in Victoria. In-store speciality sales increased 2.3 per cent, but major sales were down 1.3 per cent.

It has tried to shift focus to online sales, with a permanent click-and-collect service to be launched in the current half. Its membership program Westfield Plus has also expanded to over 1.9 million members.

Scentre expects local shopping centres to bounce back once vaccination levels rise and governments reopen the economy.

"When you look at the traffic flows that we've had, when the restrictions ease our business really strongly rebounds, and this is what we're going to be seeing," Mr Allen said.

The landlord held liquidity of $5.7 billion at June-end and says it could consider acquisitions to complement its existing portfolio in areas where it has no presence.

Scentre will pay a distribution of seven cents per security for the first half, and has stuck to its target distribution of 14 cents per security for 2021, based on the assumption that current restrictions will ease by October's end.

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