Westfield shares soar after Unibail-Rodamco takeover

 

Shares (Berlin: DI6.BE - news) in Australian shopping centre giant Westfield (Frankfurt: A113BB - news) soared Wednesday after French property firm Unibail-Rodamco (Brussels: NL0000288652.BR - news) agreed to buy the group, with founder Frank Lowy congratulated on his "impeccable timing".

In a deal valuing Westfield at US$24.7 billion, shareholders will receive the equivalent of Aus$10.01 in cash and stock for each share they hold.

That represents a huge premium to the Aus$8.50 they were trading at before the deal was announced on Tuesday.

The market responded with the stock soaring 13.65 percent to close at Aus$9.66 on Wednesday.

The biggest-ever corporate takeover in Australia will create a combined portfolio of the merged companies including key centres such as Westfield London and Westfield World Trade Center in New York.

The deal has the backing of both boards and once finalised, the well-recognised Westfield brand will be rolled out in the enlarged group's flagship shopping destinations.

Chairman Lowy, who launched the company in 1960, said he had mixed emotions but was comfortable with the deal.

His decision comes with the retail sector globally being battered by the rise of internet shopping, led by Amazon, fuelling concerns about the future of bricks and mortar malls, the backbone of Westfield.

The business media in Australia said selling now was "impeccable timing".

"Retail malls are by no means dead, but the economics of running them is changing hands thanks to growth in online shopping," the Sydney Morning Herald said in a comment piece.

"Ultimately the power continues to shift to the customer, who gets to choose whether they shop in a physical store or with plenty of internet-enabled transparency which gives them the ability to minimise the price they pay.

"This is a style of business that wouldn't suit Lowy."

The Australian newspaper echoed similar sentiments.

"From where Frank sits, the world is undergoing a technological revolution and just where that goes no one really knows. That makes it as good a time to sell as any," it said.

Westfield started out with one shopping centre in Sydney and now has interests in dozens of malls and airport retail spaces globally.

Lowy, who was knighted by the Queen this week, embarked on a restructuring in 2014, spinning off the group's Australia and New Zealand business from its international operations into a separate entity, Scentre, whose shares finished 1.61 percent higher Wednesday.

The Australian Financial Review said Lowy, a well-known figure who used to run Football Federation Australia, was "checking out with a bang".

"When the deal is done, Lowy will have the rare accomplishment of creating and closing a top 20 ASX-listed company in one generation and walking away with billions," it said.

"It's neat, it's tidy and little is left to chance."