Retail is tough for Landsec, but outlet segment continues to perform
Property giant Landsec’s full-year results to March 31 showed the devastation that the coronavirus has wreaked, as well as the ongoing weakness (and pockets of strength) in the wider retail sector.
‘Revenue profit’ was down 6.3% to £414 million and the pre-tax loss was £837 million, much wider than the prior year’s loss of £123 million.
The company isn’t paying a final dividend and also said its combined portfolio is now valued at £1.179 billion, down 8.8%, with the retail segment alone seeing a valuation deficit of 20.5%. But the owner of Bluewater and many other retail sites across the UK said it has a healthy balance sheet.
Its properties have been seeing “high occupancy”, but like-for-like net rental income, before provisions related to next year's rent, was down £4 million or 0.7%. In the case of retail, it was down £10 million, or 3.9%.
But its “retail destinations [have been] significantly outperforming national benchmarks for footfall and sales”. Its 11-month footfall dropped only 1.2% compared to the benchmark figure of 3.7% (11 months given that the final month of the year can’t really be counted due to the lockdown). And its 11-month same-centre sales were up 0.9% (up 0.1% excluding automotive sales) vs the benchmark that was down 3.2%.
But the immediate impact of Covid-19 has been “particularly significant” on its retail ops with four of its centres shut completely. Rent collection rates in March and early April saw an average 63% collected within 10 days of falling due, compared with 94% for the same period in 2019. And June rent collection rates are likely to be worse than March given that most of the negative economic impact from Covid-19 has fallen in Q2.
Yet the pandemic has merely exacerbated a declining trend, and prior to the impact of Covid-19, the retail market “continued to face structural changes”.
Landsec said that in the last year, changing consumer shopping habits and rising costs for retailers “put pressure on rents across the sector, and negotiations with customers have been challenging. This was reflected in asset pricing, with rental values and market yield movements leading to significant declines in valuations, particularly in regional retail and retail parks”.
In London retail, the market showed similar trends to the rest of the UK, with mid-market fashion struggling, which should speed up the move away from fashion. “London retail continues to evolve and trends are accelerating,” it explained. “In the future, we anticipate a greater demand for service and experience-led occupiers in increasingly mixed use destinations”.
Landsec has a big exposure to non-retail property and it could be that it reconsiders its weighting in retail as that sector continues to struggle. Retail parks already make up only 3.5% of its portfolio and it “will continue to monitor our exposure to this sector”. During the year it made one disposal, selling Poole Retail Park for £45 million.
But there’s one area of retail that’s particularly strong — the outlets sector. Outlets continued to be its best performer in its retail segment during the year, and it added 33 new brands across its five outlets. Consumer research and sales data enabled it to target brands to strengthen its line-up. At Gunwharf Quays, Portsmouth, it added Loake, Dune, Belstaff and Penhaligons. At Braintree Village, last year's opening of Polo Ralph Lauren continued to help the centre's performance. The brand also attracted other premium retailers to the centre including Kate Spade and Lyle & Scott.
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