File picture: James White
JOHANNESBURG - intu Properties, the dual-listed owner, manager and developer of UK and Spanish malls, yesterday saw its stock plunge more than 30 percent on the local bourse as the group axed dividend payments after reporting losses of almost £850million in the first half of the year.

The share later closed at R8.40.

The highly indebted group admitted that it would take time to turn its fortunes around. The company’s loss before tax of £829.6million (R14.32billion) for the six months to June was almost double the £486.2m losses it reported in the comparative period.

The group reported a slight decrease in revenue from £322.1m last year to £315m as net rental income fell 18percent to £205.2m.

intu’s debt pile fell to £4.71bn from £4.87bn, helped by the £153m it received from the sale of its Derby shopping centre.

The company said that it had embarked on a five-year turnaround strategy to keep it afloat and return it to profitability.

Matthew Roberts, intu chief executive, said that the group had over the past nine months undertaken a comprehensive review of the business and that in the short term, fixing the balance sheet is the management's top priority.

“We are making good progress on the disposal of our Spanish assets, the proceeds of which we will use to reduce our debt. Additionally, we are not paying a dividend for the time being to retain cash within the business,” Roberts said.

“We are looking to make material progress over the next six to 12 months and we will keep all options under review, from the self-help measures described through to raising equity.”

intu and its competitors have seen revenues decline on the back of challenges in the retail sector in the UK, which have seen store closure programmes.

Chains including LK Bennett, Bathstore, Select, and Pretty Green, have entered administration this year, resulting in store closures.

intu has over the past four months made sweeping management changes as it struggles to arrest its worsening balance sheet. In June, the group appointed Robert Allen as chief financial officer.

Allen’s appointment came just two months after the retail property group welcomed Roberts as its new chief executive, and one month after Dushyant Sangar was named chief investment officer.

Roberts said he had the right team in place to get the group back on the right track.

“With the people changes we have made, we now have the right leadership team in place with the appropriate skill sets to deliver this plan and drive the business forward.”

The company was subject to two takeover bids with rivals Hammerson, which wanted to buy intu for £3.4bn before abandoning the deal over fears that it would increase Hammerson’s exposure to Britain’s troubled retail sector.

Hammerson failed bid was filled by a £2.9bn bidding consortium made up of the intu shareholder Peel Group, Saudi Arabia’s Olayan Group and Canadian firm Brookfield Proper. That bid also fell through amid Brexit-related concerns.

BUSINESS REPORT