Speculation is gaining momentum that the Westfield Group could undertake a sell-down of interests in shopping centres across the country to raise funds for its expanding global developments. As long as the group retains a 25 per cent stake in the properties, it will continue to be paid management fees.
Westfield has 39 shopping centres across Australia. It holds a 50 per cent interest in 18 centres with joint venture partners, including the listed Westfield Retail Trust. The rest are owned by Westfield Group at the 25 per cent threshold.
Brokers have expressed doubt the group would sell down all the interests, but said given its expansion plans overseas and the global $12 billion development pipeline, it was a good way to generate income.
Shares in the two groups rose on Monday after investors absorbed the impact of the sale on Thursday by the Lowy family's private investment fund of its 7.1 per cent direct stake in the Westfield Retail Trust.
Any sale of Westfield Group's direct interest in the centres is unrelated to sales by the family's super fund. The family fund is run independently by the eldest son, David, and, like any other super fund, it has interests in a range of sectors and companies.
According to JP Morgan's analysts Rob Stanton and Richard Jones, the decision of a "long-term and wise investor to reduce its exposure to Australian shopping centres raises questions about the future direction of capital values".
"Westfield Retail Trust remains a captive vehicle to Westfield Group and the Lowys don't need to be invested in the trust to retain control of the assets. The management rights stipulate Westfield needs to retain a 25 per cent holding in the assets to retain perpetual management rights," the brokers said.
"It could also be argued the Lowys' exit clears the path for Westfield Group to sell down an additional 25 per cent in assets it owns 50:50 with Westfield Retail Trust. If this occurred for all the Australian and NZ assets [which] Westfield owns 50 per cent of, it would be about a $4.3 billion transaction."