Asset sales likely to help offset construction slowdown

The malaise in the construction sector could force another round of asset sales by developers to shore up their balance sheets if project costs continue to rise.

The malaise in the construction sector could force another round of asset sales by developers to shore up their balance sheets if project costs continue to rise.

It is widely anticipated that Westfield could sell down its interests in malls across Australia and New Zealand to 25 per cent, to the minimum required to maintain management rights. There is also talk the retail landlord could revisit a proposal to sell its 85 Castlereagh Street office tower in Sydney and use the cash for its global $8 billion development pipeline.

Demand for high-quality CBD office towers is rising as real estate investment trusts focus all their portfolios on the local property sector. Another possible sale, to unlock cash, would be Lend Lease's 30 per cent holding in the Bluewater shopping centre in Kent, Britain.

The $2.7 billion shopping centre has long been earmarked for a possible sale. At last year's full-year result, Lend Lease's chief executive, Steve McCann, confirmed asset sales were being investigated.

Analysts at Commonwealth Bank's global markets research said they believed Lend Lease might need to sell Bluewater in the 2014 financial year in order to avoid putting pressure on ratings agency triggers and to help meet or beat consensus estimates.

They said the Bluewater stake was held as inventory, and therefore measured at cost in the financial statements. The market value of 100 per cent of Bluewater was $2.7 billion, with the group's 30 per cent direct interest valued at about $770.9 million.

"We continue to view the stock as a key underweight," they said.

"In our view, there are a number of headwinds the stock is likely to face over the next 12 months, which are in contrast to the significant tailwinds that the company and its share price enjoyed through 2012."

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