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Shopping centre owner Intu collapses into administration

·4-min read
<span>Photograph: Oli Scarff/AFP via Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Oli Scarff/AFP via Getty Images

Intu Properties has collapsed into administration after the heavily indebted shopping centre owner failed to secure an agreement with its creditors.

The company, whose centres include Lakeside in Essex, the Trafford Centre in Manchester and Gateshead’s Metrocentre, has debts of more than £4.5bn and was unable to persuade lenders to grant a standstill on debt repayments before a Friday night deadline.

The company employs nearly 2,400 people and owns 17 shopping centres across the UK. Its failure is one of the biggest ever seen in a property industry battered by the lockdown which has left retail and hospitality tenants unable to pay their rent.

Related: UK retailers pay only 14% of £2.5bn rent due this week

On Friday afternoon KPMG, the accountancy firm, was formally appointed to handle the administration of Intu as well as eight other subsidiary companies. The shopping centres around the country would continue to trade as normal while the future of the malls is resolved.

Jim Tucker, a partner at KPMG and one of the joint administrators, said: “Intu owns many of the UK’s biggest and best-known shopping centres. The challenges affecting UK retail are well known and have been exacerbated by the impact of Covid-19 and the resulting lockdown.

“As today’s administration makes clear, those challenges have fed through to owners of retail property, even to owners of high-quality shopping centres such as Intu’s.”

KPMG said Intu’s shopping centres were owned individually by special purpose vehicles which were outside of the insolvency process and thus able to trade as normal under the control of their directors. The company’s creditors have agreed to stump up £12m to keep the company’s centres open as the administration process is played out.

Intu’s chief executive, Matthew Roberts, had faced a herculean task in trying to persuade its lenders – a group that includes Bank of America, Barclays, Credit Suisse, HSBC, Lloyds Banking Group, NatWest and UBS – to agree to pause repayments. The group is essentially a holding company with £4.5bn of borrowing spread over 21 separate debt instruments creating a complicated web.

On Friday morning Roberts said his attempt to secure some breathing space for the company had been unsuccessful.

In addition to Intu’s 2,373 employees, another 100,000 retail workers are employed by its tenants, who include big high street names such as Marks & Spencer, Next and H&M, to work in its centres. The travails of the former FTSE 100 company have weighed heavily on its shares which on Friday were worth 2p before the administration triggered their suspension. They were changing hands at 200p less than two years ago.

Any sale process will be complicated by the group’s complex structure, and property analysts predict it will be broken up. Intu owns nine of the top 20 shopping centres in the UK.

Malls such as the Trafford Centre, Lakeside and The Mall at Cribbs Causeway, Bristol are likely to attract potential buyers, but its smaller regional malls – such as The Potteries centre in Stoke-on-Trent – may prove less popular.

Intu had been under pressure before the coronavirus pandemic. The value of its centres, as well as those of rival operators such as Hammerson and British Land, had been falling as some of the high street’s big space occupiers, including Debenhams, House of Fraser and Topshop, closed stores and demanded rent cuts so that they could stay in business.

After lockdown had taken effect, Intu received only 29% of the revenue it was due on rent day. UK retailers are estimated to have paid just 14% of the £2.5bn quarterly rent due this week as they try to conserve cash and negotiate new, lower rent deals.

With the shift to online shopping undermining the economics of physical store retailing before the health crisis, the high street shutdown has raised the stakes.

“There is little doubt about the fall from grace of retail property companies,” said Adrian Palmer, a professor at Henley Business School. “Intu has been hit by changes in shopping habits. Online shopping has taken custom not just from high streets, but also Intu’s out of town shopping centres.

“Retail property used to be considered a safe bet for investment, and many pension funds will be hit hard by the declining value and liquidity of property funds such as Intu which include retail in their portfolio.”