Westfield US asset sales viewed as positive move

Westfield could raise up to $9 billion in the medium term through the sell-down of its direct interests in assets.

Westfield could raise up to $9 billion in the medium term through the sell-down of its direct interests in assets.

According to analysts, the group's move to sell half-shares in six malls in Florida this week to the O'Connor Capital group was the trigger to do the same in Australia, New Zealand, the US and Britain.

This would release funds for its $12 billion property development pipeline (its direct interest is about $4 billion), share-buy program and expansion of new online technology.

David Lloyd, a real estate analyst at Commonwealth Bank, said he believed Westfield ultimately wanted to own a direct exposure in each asset to entrench itself as the manager.

"We view this transaction as another positive step in Westfield's evolution to a more capital-light, higher-return-on-equity real estate investment trust. Furthermore, we expect similar-style transactions to materialise throughout calendar 2013," he said.

"Based on this principle, we estimate Westfield has the potential to sell down a further $8.6 billion in assets across its established geographies.

"Following the O'Connor joint venture, Westfield's US exposure is heavily skewed to California (51 per cent or US$6.3 billion).

"Importantly, Westfield has yet to divest interests in the majority of its Californian portfolio, which in our view holds some of its best assets in the US and would be greatly attractive to pension and sovereign wealth funds."

The suggested sell-down of its interests also triggered another round of speculation that Westfield may look to sell the office tower at 85 Castlereagh Street, Sydney.

The group's co-chief executive, Peter Lowy, has said the office assets were integral to the portfolio, but analysts say that with high demand for quality office assets in Sydney, the temptation to sell at a high price may be increasing.

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