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Too much retail space? [07-10-2013]  
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Klang Valley has 59 million sq ft but some small towns have only a single mall.

THERE are a few issues facing shopping mall space in the Klang Valley today. The first is the amount of space, the second is retail spending which has a direct effect on rental and yield.

The Klang Valley, which includes Selangor and Putrajaya, has a total of 59 million sq ft of mall space, according to statistics from the National Property Information Centre (Napic).

That is equivalent to 51 Suria KLCC malls, which has 1.14 million sq ft of net lettable area. Napic includes arcades and older buildings in the outskirts as shopping mall space.

If one were to consider non-government statistics, property consultancy CBRE says Greater Kuala Lumpur has a total retail space of 48 million sq ft, equivalent to 41 Suria KLCCs malls. This excludes arcades and retail space in older buildings in the Klang Valley outskirts. Greater KL has a population of 7.2 million, according to Economists Intelligence Unit.

Neighbouring Singapore in December 2012 has 56 million sq ft of retail space, of which 25 million sq ft (or 44%) are shopping floor space in the city state of 5.3 million people, according to CapitaMall Trust website. A local property consultant considers 25 million sq ft as rather low as Singapore thrives on shopping and tourism.

The question is... will retail spending continue to expand? As it is, retail rentals have not shot up but have only been maintained.

Retail sales in Malaysia are expected to grow at a faster rate this year – up 6.4% to RM94.4bil from a growth rate of 5.5% to RM88bil in 2012, driven by domestic demand, says RGM Retail Group (M) Sdn Bhd retail consultant and managing director Tan Hai Hsin. Tan is Henry Butcher Retail managing director.

He says the oversupply and overbuilding situation is only apparent in the city, but not in the smaller towns.

“This does not mean there is no room for growth,” he says in an email. He says the retail scene industry in Malaysia will remain healthy for the rest of this year, supported by sustainable domestic demand.

Although Klang Valley’s oversupply of mall space has been apparent 10 years ago, the drive to build is relentless.

Jordan Lee & Jaafar executive director Yap Kian Ann says developers like to go into mall developments because profits from malls tend to be higher than condominiums and offices generally. Average mall rental is RM12 per sq ft compared with RM7.50-RM8 for office space.

In August, Sunway REIT Management Sdn Bhd chief executive officer Datuk Jeffrey Ng hit the nail on the head when he said “there is no shortage of condominiums, office, retail and hotel space.”

The story of KL malls is not just oversupply but the disparity between the successful malls and the struggling ones.

The two main downtown malls are Suria KLCC and Pavilion KL. Both thrive on fashion. Then there is the big suburban malls like Mid Valley and Gardens, 1-Utama and Sunway Pyramid.

Then there are the smaller neighbourhood malls like Bangsar Village and Bangsar Shopping Centre. Each of them serves a certain niche market. Then there are newer malls like the SS2 Mall and Paradigm Mall.

Popular malls like Pavilion KL, Suria KLCC and 1-Utama enjoy nearly full occupancy while struggling ones suffer from poor visibility and anaemic traffic.

Mall focus

While the abundance of mall space and retail spending are important issues, the focus on mall space came about because there seems to be some interesting developments in this sub-segment of the property market.

In August, a Singapore-based fund, ARA Asset Management Ltd, linked to Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka-Shing said it would be divesting five neighbourhood malls in Malaysia.

These being Aeon Bandaraya in Malacca, Klang Parade, Ipoh Parade, 1MK in Mont’Kiara and Citta Mall in Ara Damansara. Granted, two of them are not in the Klang Valley, the sale of malls in today’s challenging and uncertain economic and financial environment only underscores the opacity of what lies ahead.

ARA Asset Management is one of the largest mall managers in Asia. One of its fund managers, ARA Managers (Asia Dragon) Pte Ltd’s director of portfolio investment Thomas Kong says it is divesting because the fund under which the malls are parked are winding down.

The five malls has a total built-up area exceeding 2.7 million sq ft. Kong says they would like to retain management rights for all five, which are part of a series of assets in Singapore, Hong Kong, China and Malaysia.

Malaysia has under a fifth of the whole fund’s portfolio.

Another mall for sale is Tropicana City Mall in Petaling Jaya. Tropicana Corp Bhd, its owner, offered the four-storey mall to CapitaMalls Malaysia REIT Management Sdn Bhd, which manages the Capitamalls Malaysia Trust (CMMT). The due diligence has just been completed, a source says.

Also on the grapevine are the possible sale of two other malls, Encorp Strand Mall in Kota Damansara and the Empire Shopping Gallery in Subang Jaya. There is a net lettable area of 750,000 sq ft between them. Attempts to get in touch with Encorp’s top management failed.

Mammoth Empire Holding Sdn Bhd (MEH) executive director Datuk Danny Cheah says he has no intention of selling Empire Shopping Gallery for the next one year.

“If you talk about the future, we (will) never know,” he says. “Instead, we are building more malls. Empire City in Damansara Perdana will have a mall of about 2 million sq ft. We also have Remix Mall of about 1.5 million sq ft. We are gearing towards a REIT (real estate investment trust) and you need to be sizeable for that.

For a REIT to be successful, there must also be attractive yields. Mall rentals are not shooting up, they are being maintained currently, property professionals say.

Despite that, developers continue to have a penchant for malls. The Sime Darby group will be building its first mall in Melawati in a joint venture with CapitaMalls Asia Ltd. It will have a net lettable area (NLA) of about 620,000 sq ft.

Malton Bhd is said to be planning to replicate its success with Pavilion KL by building a mall in Pusat Bandar Damansara on a smaller scale and another larger one in Bukit Jalil.

Guocoland (M) Bhd, the developer of Damansara City in Pusat Bandar Damansara, is also building a mall there. That means within the triangular 46 acres known as Pusat Bandar Damansara, there will be two malls and possibly two hotels.

Another developer is planning to build a mall in Bukit Jalil, so they will be giving Malton a run for its money. Who opens first is important. This will be located between Overseas Union Garden and the Kesas Highway.

These are just some of the known projects in the pipeline.

Rent-free period

But even as developers plan for these future projects, some shopping centres are giving long rent-free period to their retailers, says Henry Butcher Retail managing director Tan Hai Hsin. Despite this, they still fail to attract sufficient retailers.

Tan says there is a clear disparity between successful malls and struggling ones. Tan says shopping centres that have been suffering from low shopping traffic will continue to face challenges in attracting crowds moving forward while the more successful ones will thrive with retailers waiting in line.

Jordan Lee & Jaafar executive director Yap Kian Ann says there are four criteria that help a mall to succeed. Those with 1 million sq ft of net lettable area seem to do better, although there is a place for neighbourhood malls as seen in Bangsar Village 1 and II and Bangsar Shopping Centre.

A second criteria is developer must retain control and must not sell the units individually. The mall owner will be able to control the tenant mix and management. The third criteria is location, says Yap.

He says the mall outlook will be challenging in the next two to three years when new malls are completed.

“We have not felt the full effect of it yet. But we will in another two to three years,” he says.

How did Kuala Lumpur come to a stage where is an abundant supply of office space, condominiums and retail space but affordable housing? The short answer is profitability. The long answer will take up more than these two pages.

If it is any indication, CBRE in a second quarter 2013 report said prime retail rents in the city centre was at RM155 per sq ft at the KLCC. Traffic flow is an important criteria.

“This is not average rental but the rental of the unit itself,” says a source. In the suburbs like Bangsar and Petaling Jaya, average prime retail rent is RM48 per sq ft.

The report says further increases are expected.

Routine selling?

The buying and selling of malls may well be routine by funds and developers. Or it could be an indication of something else brewing. Owners cash out, or monetise, due to expected weak yields going forward, or as in the case of the ARA Dragon Fund (ARA), a winding down of a fund.

Monetising is clearly the case with the Quill group who is building Quill City Mall in Jalan Sultan Ismail, Kuala Lumpur. The Employees Provident Fund is buying for RM1.2bil under certain conditions.

The number of For Sale signs is food for thought.

Ironically, despite the oversupply, more malls are built. Will there be takers for Malaysian malls?

Henry Butcher Retail MD Tan Hai Hsin says there will be local and foreign interested parties.

“Size of the mall, the current yield and potential for higher increment are the main considerations,” Tan says.

Which explains why millions are spent on enhancement and refurbishment. Klang Parade is being refurbished at a cost of RM120mil. Post refurbishment, rental will go up double-digit in percentage terms to provide a net yield of 8%. ARA owns it.

1MK in Mont’Kiaram, another ARA asset, is being enhanced at a cost of RM20mil. 1MK will be relaunched in April/May 2014 with an expected yield of 6%.

Citta Mall in Ara Damansara, which the fund purchased at about RM200mil or RM600 per sq ft is currently 58% leased versus 30% last November.

“We will sell our refurbishment plan to the next fund,” says Kong. The fund acquired the five malls for more than RM1.2bil.

The last and fifth mall it will be divesting is Aeon Bandaraya in Malacca, which it bought for less than RM400mil in 2010, giving it a yield of 7%.

Other mall owners are also investing in enhancements, the Sunway group being one of them. Going forward, Kong says selling the five malls collectively as a single portfolio will be of more value than individually as “it is difficult to assemble a portfolio of this size.”

There are other exit routes, but for the time being, divestment will be the most likely, says Kong.

“If you have great malls, there will be no lack of suitors,” he says.

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