Westfield owner Unibail’s shareholders reject rights issue

By Sarah Morland

(Reuters) – Shareholders of Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield (URW) <URW.AS> have voted against a planned 3.5 billion euro ($4.15 billion) rights issue, the shopping mall owner said on Tuesday.

The rejection follows vehement opposition from a consortium led by French billionaire Xavier Niel and Leon Bressler, the company’s former CEO.

“We will need to study all possible alternatives to rapidly strengthen the group’s financial structure,” Chief Executive Christophe Cuvillier said on a call.

He added that a majority of shareholders supported the capital increase but the votes fell short of the two thirds required.

Shareholders also approved three supervisory board appointments put forward by the rebel consortium – namely Niel, Bressler and Catalan businesswoman Susana Gallardo.

Unibail, Europe’s biggest property owner, announced the capital increase in September as part of a broader restructuring. Cuvillier said the group still planned to implement the plan’s other measures.

He added that a possible first COVID-19 global vaccine could help the group significantly – notably boosting sales opportunities in the United States – but did not change the necessity of shoring up the group’s balance sheet.

Retailers have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, with many forced to close during government-enforced lockdowns. Mall owners have also had to help tenants with rent relief.

The consortium had argued that Unibail did not need the rights issue to meet its financial obligations up to 2023 and that it would destroy the group’s share value.

It blamed URW’s heavy debt on its 2017 acquisition of Westfield, which is mainly focused on the United States and Britain.

While management had proposed billions of euros in European assets disposals, the consortium called for Unibail to refocus on Europe and sell off its U.S. real estate.

($1 = 0.8432 euros)

(Reporting by Sarah Morland in Gdansk; Editing by Keith Weir, Louise Heavens and David Goodman)

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