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Westfield Bails Out Of US After COVID Catastrophe

Former Australian retail giant Westfield is set to pull the plug on its US operations, a little over three years after it was sold to French firm Unibail-Rodamco.

The $5 billion move by Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield (URW) to sell off its American shopping centres by the end of next year – including the one in New York City’s rebuilt World Trade Centre – will leave the company as a Europe-only operator, as CEO Jean-Marie Tritant told journalists on a call on Thursday Australian time.

“At the end of the day, the exposure to the US will be minimal if not zero,” he said, as reported by the Australian Financial Review.

URW was hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic last year, having to close all its malls for 93 days; only 70 days of 2020 were unaffected by restrictions.

Though URW is saddled with €24 billion ($37.6 billion) in debt, and suffered a 40 per cent drop in net recurring revenue in 2020, Tritant put a positive spin on the results, saying the post-lockdown recovery has been a good sign.

The interior of Westfield’s World Trade Centre shopping mall in New York City. Image by Anthony Quintano, used under CC BY 2.0.

“Whenever we were open, traffic was recovering and sales were following.

“In 2021 we will continue to weather the storm with our tenants and prepare for the rebound, which we expect based on pent-up consumer demand, high savings levels and government stimulus,” he said.

Tritant said URW was still committed to its two existing London malls, but is considering its options with its stalled project in Croydon, in the city’s south.

Unibail-Rodamco bought Westfield’s foreign operations for $32 billion in December of 2017; Australia’s Westfield shopping centres, owned by Scentre Group, will not be affected by URW’s move.

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