The Westfield Group (ASX:WDC) today announced its half year results to 30 June 2009, with Operational EBIT of $1.446 billion, up 18.1% on the prior year or 6.3% on a constant currency basis. Operational earnings were $1.040 billion, up 12.1% on the prior period and 8.3% on a constant currency basis.
Operational earnings per security were 47.41 cents, 0.9% lower than the prior corresponding period (4.2% lower on a constant currency basis), as a result of the increased number of securities on issue. This is consistent with the Group’s full year forecast.
The amount available for distribution for the six months was $1.057 billion (48.16 cents per security) of which $1.031 billion will be distributed, representing 47.00 cents per security.
The Group’s statutory result for the half year, under IFRS, was $(708) million and included non-cash mark to market gains on financial instruments of $932 million and asset revaluations of $(2.9) billion, the latter principally due to an increase in capitalisation rates.
Westfield Group Managing Directors, Peter Lowy and Steven Lowy, said: “The Group continued to deliver solid underlying earnings for the half year. The Australian portfolio is performing above our expectations while conditions are stabilising, albeit at lower levels, in the more challenging environments in the United States, the United Kingdom and New Zealand.”
The Group is pleased to announce that it has extended US$1.4 billion of its Global Syndicated Facility that was due to mature in January 2011, to now mature in August 2012.
“There has also been a significant shift in the capital markets in recent months with an improvement in both the availability and cost of new capital. This has enabled the Group to raise approximately $3.3 billion of equity and $3.0 billion of debt since the start of the year. Consequently, the Group’s balance sheet is in a strong position with gearing of 34.8% and current available liquidity of $7.5 billion”, Peter Lowy said.
Against this background, the Board has decided to review the distribution payout level and consequently set the level to 70% – 75% of Operational earnings and associated income hedging.
The first distribution that will feature this new payout level will be the August 2010 distribution.
The August 2009 and February 2010 distributions will continue to reflect the current payout ratio of up to 100% of Operational earnings and associated income hedging.
Having regard to the operating environment and the Group’s capital management strategy, the Group does not expect to commence any new major developments until after June 2010.
“The retained earnings together with the Group’s strong balance sheet and the reduction in future capital expenditure on developments, further enhances the Group’s financial position and earnings growth profile going forward.
“The change in the distribution payout level will enable the Group to retain approximately $500 million a year. This will be deployed in the Group’s future investment activities including strategic developments, which have target long term investment returns of between 12% – 15% and any acquisition opportunities that may arise”, Peter Lowy said.
For the half year, comparable shopping centre net operating income for the portfolio grew by 3.0%, with the Australian and New Zealand portfolio growing by 6.2% and in the United States and the United Kingdom portfolios declining by 0.6% and 4.1%, respectively.
Portfolio occupancy at 30 June 2009 was 96.2%, up 0.2% from the March 2009 quarter. Importantly this was driven by a 30 basis point improvement in the US portfolio to 90.4% leased, a 70 basis point improvement in our UK portfolio to 97.3% and a continuation of strong occupancy in the Australian and New Zealand portfolios at in excess of 99.5% leased.
For the six months to 30 June 2009, comparable specialty retail sales for the Group’s centres in Australia grew by 5.1%; in New Zealand down by 0.2% and the United States declined by 6.2%. In the United Kingdom, industry statistics show retail sales in London grew by 4.8% and were up 0.5% nationally.
There are currently five projects under construction at a forecast investment by the Group of $4.2 billion, principally the Sydney City project and Stratford in London. To date $1.9 billion has been spent on these projects with the balance of $2.3 billion to be incurred over the next three years.
“Our development activity remains concentrated in the Sydney CBD and Stratford, the gateway to the London 2012 Olympics. These two projects are of the highest quality and are expected to create significant long term value.
Redevelopment remains a major component of our long term value creation activity and we will continue to invest in the predevelopment of our high quality opportunities in order to be in a position to commence these projects when conditions are appropriate”, Steven Lowy said.
The Group’s high quality portfolio of 119 shopping centres across Australia, the United States, the United Kingdom and New Zealand is well positioned in the current economic environment and benefits from the substantial investment in the portfolio through the redevelopment activity over recent years.
This is underpinned by a strong balance sheet, high occupancy levels and long term leases based on minimum contracted rents generating stable cash flows that have proven to be resilient through economic cycles.
Assuming no material change in economic conditions or currency exchange rates, guidance for 2009 remains unchanged with Operational earnings and distribution forecast to be in the range of 94 cents to 97 cents per security.
A comprehensive copy of the announcement can be found here: