France's Unibail-Rodamco to buy Australia's Westfield mall giant

World Trade Center mall

Europe-based property management company Unibail-Rodamco has entered into an agreement to acquire US mall operator Westfield.

Westfield shareholders will receive a combination of cash and stocks in the combined entity.

Westfield owns and operates 35 malls in the U.S. and United Kingdom valued at US$32 billion, according to its Web site.

The deal, which would offer Westfield shareholders a combination of cash and shares in Unibail-Rodamco, values Westfield shares at US$7.55 each, or A$10.01, representing a almost 18% premium to Westfield's most recent share price of A$8.50.

Westfield embarked on a restructure in 2014, spinning off its Australia and New Zealand business from its global operations into a separate entity.

"Unibail is mounting the biggest takeover of a company in the Asia-Pacific region this year - and the largest ever in Australia - as mall owners seek to contend with relentless pressure from online commerce".

In the new company, Lowy would chair an advisory board while the CEO of Unibail-Rodamco, Christophe Cuvillier, would retain that role. "It adds a number of new attractive retail markets in London and the wealthiest catchment areas in the United States".

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Under its Australian billionaire chairman and co-founder Frank Lowy, Westfield has pioneered US mall redevelopment, introducing upscale food courts, high-end restaurants, bars, cinemas and boutique fashion outlets to entice shoppers.

"This is really the polarization of shopping mall markets". Westfield's portfolio is valued at $32 billion.

"Westfield has been seen as a pioneer in USA mall redevelopment, melding traditional mall retailers with atypical mall fixtures like upscale food courts, high-end restaurants, bars, cinemas and boutique fashion outlets", write Reuters's Byron Kaye and Sonali Paul.

Both companies' boards of directors have approved the transaction, which must also be approved by shareholders. Unibail expects the deal to close in the first half of 2018.

His sons, Peter Lowy and Steven Lowy, are co-chief executives of Westfield, which spun off its Australian and New Zealand assets in 2014 into Scentre Group.

Chairman Sir Frank Lowy, who was knighted just this week by Queen Elizabeth II says the move was part of its journey, and had been on the cards since its 2014 restructure.

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