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Lionel Laurent

Westfield’s Owner Is Feeding the Banks Again

Three years ago, Unibail was splashing out on M&A. Now bankers are arranging a $4 billion cash call. So much for the firm’s crisis resilience.

Westfield’s owner now needs some blue-sky thinking.

Westfield’s owner now needs some blue-sky thinking.

Photographer: Luke MacGregor/Bloomberg

Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield has a history of shrugging off crises. A decade ago, Europe’s No. 1 operator of top-tier shopping malls and offices doled out cash to shareholders even as banks collapsed and austerity ruled. The rise of online shopping only pushed it further to keep buying trophies like Westfield. That halo of invincibility has well and truly slipped after Covid-19.

The group’s market value has shriveled to 5.1 billion euros ($6 billion) from 27 billion euros in 2018 after a global round of coronavirus-induced lockdowns robbed malls of shoppers and tenants of sales. Even now that its sites have almost all reopened, the threat of a resurgence of Covid-19 and a deeper hit to property values have pushed the company to announce a 3.5 billion-euro capital hike and a 4 billion-euro asset-sale plan.