Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield Shareholders Reject Plans For Rights Issue

PARIS — A consortium of Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield shareholders led by French billionaire Xavier Niel has scored a victory, landing board seats and scuppering company plans for a 3.5-billion-euro capital increase in a vote held remotely late Monday.

The French mall operator’s chairman and chief executive officer Christophe Cuvillier said the proposed capital increase failed to gather the required two-thirds majority. “We will have to review all possible alternatives to rapidly strengthen the group’s financial structure,” he said in a statement.

The executive pledged to move forward with other parts of the company’s strategic plan, which includes asset sales and lower dividends, and seized on news of progress on a global vaccine against COVID-19 as potentially having a significant positive impact on real estate holdings.

URW’s plan, dubbed “Reset,” has come under fire from a group of activist shareholders that includes Niel and Léon Bressler, a former ceo of Unibail. The shareholders said a rights issue would be severely dilutive, and have called on the company to instead focus on its core European shopping centers and sell its U.S. holdings.

Niel, Bressler and Susana Gallardo gained board seats in the remote vote, which took place ahead of a shareholder meeting Tuesday.

The mall operator has been hit hard by lockdowns and disruption to business from the coronavirus crisis. Rental income from shopping centers declined 12.3 percent on a like-for-like basis to 1.46 billion euros in the first nine months of the year, weighed down by lagging business in the U.S.

Since purchasing Westfield, and its properties in London, New York and San Francisco, Cuvillier has steered the company’s focus on choice locations, keeping them alive with new brands and a frequent renewal of tenants. He also has promoted mixed-use sites and consumer data — collecting it globally, bringing scale to the local mall business.

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