Mall operator Intu shares slump after dividend axed amid retail shakeout
The owner of the Trafford Centre in Manchester, northern England, which had paid a final dividend of 9.4 pence per share last year, blamed persistent declines in sales from physical stores and a rash of company failures in the sector.
It said retaining the dividend would allow it to continue to invest in its malls after a year in which its net rental income had fallen by around 1.9 percent and the value of its UK assets had shrunk 13.3 percent or £1.4 billion.
"2018 has been an eventful and challenging year for Intu," said Chief Executive David Fischel in a statement, noting Intu's shares had slumped to a virtually unprecedented 60 percent discount to the underlying net value of its assets.
The company, which is also trying to lower its debt, said it would look to sell some assets in the UK and Spain, though it was holding off on British disposals while Brexit-related uncertainty was seriously impacting investor sentiment.
In Spain the group had received a number of unsolicited offers it was evaluating.
Intu shares were down 9 percent at 107 pence by 0854 GMT, the top loser in London's midcap index, after falling as low as 103.4p, their lowest in nearly a month. Blue chip rivals Hammerson, British Land and Land Securities were also in the red.
"With no yield support, a constrained capital structure, the continuing search for new leadership, and the ongoing seismic shift in the retail landscape, caution must persist," Peel Hunt analysts said.
Fischel plans to leave once a successor is appointed after more than 17 years at the helm.
Intu hopes to push its current debt to assets ratio of 53.1 percent to below its 50 percent maximum target over time and wants to conserve cash.
Chief Financial Officer Matthew Roberts said retailers were still interested in Britain despite anxieties around the country's looming exit from the European Union. "We did a good number of letting deals in 2018 and whilst global retailers remain cautious, they're still continuing to invest in the UK," Roberts told Reuters.
Intu's new tenants included Abercrombie & Fitch Co, Uniqlo, Bershka and Monki, with established retailers such as Next, Primark, Zara and River Island all upsizing.
Roberts said Intu, target of two failed takeover bids last year by Hammerson and some of its biggest shareholders, had a plan in place in case Britain crashes out of the EU without a deal next month, but declined to give details.
Roberts said Intu would review its capital returns in six months, adding it did not have a target by when to cut debt.
(Reporting by Tanishaa Nadkar and Noor Zainab Hussain in Bengaluru; Editing by Bernard Orr and David Holmes)
By Noor Zainab Hussain and Tanishaa Nadkar