The retail turmoil is real — but David Simon, chairman and chief executive officer of Simon Property Group, argued that so are the results at his malls.
The company, which focuses on higher-end ‘A’ malls, saw retail sales per square foot rise 5.3 percent to $661 a square foot in its U.S. malls and premium outlets last year. And the firm’s funds from operations — the standard financial yardstick for real estate companies — rose 7.6 percent to $4.33 billion for the year.
On a call with analysts, Simon trumpeted those results and the firm’s track record in the 25 years since its initial public offering — a stretch that saw the company pay out $28 billion in dividends.
“There’s always disruption in our industry,” Simon acknowledged. “Department store spaces that we reclaimed, either through lease termination or acquisition, we think will be beneficial in the long run.”
The company is paying about $725 million to redevelop 10 anchors, while it also has an additional 25 “opportunities” in development. “We will have lost rents in 2019, too, due to close department store spaces,” Simon said. “And the downtime related to redevelopment of those spaces.”
“We have our work cut out,” he said. “We are concerned about a few retailers. That should shake out in [the first quarter]. But I think that retailers that are investing in their product, in their store, experience, in their branding, were having decent results. So physical retail can produce good results, but it can’t be distracted with a lot of other activities.”
Simon, true to his statements in the past, bemoaned retailers that have taken on too much debt.
“We have a long list of retailers that have struggled,” he said. “Eighty percent to 90 percent of that list have been over [leveraged with debt]. So they couldn’t turn left or right. And you just can’t have too much leverage … you run into an economic difficulty or you need to make investments, you have nowhere to go.”
Simon took pride in how well his company has weathered the retail turmoil and also joked with analysts about just how deep the trouble has been.
“If I read you the list [of troubled retailers], it might — it comforts me in one sense because we withstood this pretty successfully,” he said. “On the other hand, I might scare you. So I prefer not to scare you this morning, OK?”