Overseas figures to boost Westfield first-quarter sales

Westfield's first-quarter sales, while flat in Australia, are expected to be boosted by improved performance from its overseas businesses. The world's biggest retail owner by value reported sales growth in Australia of 0.3 per cent for the quarter and confirmed rents for new leases in specialty stores had declined by about 5 per cent.

Westfield's first-quarter sales, while flat in Australia, are expected to be boosted by improved performance from its overseas businesses. The world's biggest retail owner by value reported sales growth in Australia of 0.3 per cent for the quarter and confirmed rents for new leases in specialty stores had declined by about 5 per cent.

The group said the new leases covered only about 2.2 per cent of its portfolio. Nevertheless the declines, according to analysts, reflect the fact that times are tough in the retail sector.

Westfield reaffirmed its full-year forecast of a dividend of 51ยข.

In its results for Australia, specialty categories and department stores reported declines ranging from 0.3 per cent to 4.8 per cent over the year ending March 31, and for the three months to the end of March.

The only major areas of positive growth was in food, such as takeaways and supermarkets.

Analysts at Bank of America Merrill Lynch have rated Westfield "neutral", with the stock now trading in line with the firm's $12.12 valuation.

"To become more positive, we would need to see Westfield accelerate its developments via acquisition of other near-term opportunities, as we suspect the market is now fully aware of the current $12 billion pipeline and US recovery," they said. "Continuation of the share buyback would also be a positive."

JPMorgan analyst Rob Stanton said both the Westfield Group and Westfield Retail Trust reported a "steady as she goes update for both groups, with trends at the portfolio level generally continuing from the December quarter".

Mr Stanton said US retail sales continued to grow strongly. "The trends show continued weakness in Australia and New Zealand, which is obviously more of a challenge for Westfield Retail Trust - negative rental reversions increased over the quarter," he said.

UBS analysts said the re-leasing spreads were a negative 5 per cent compared to a negative 0.5 per cent for the same time last year.

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