Mall Giant Intu Collapses Into Bankruptcy

A zombie well before the pandemic, the UK company had racked up huge debts to finance rapid growth in a sector that had started shrinking some time ago.

By Nick Corbishley, for WOLF STREET:

Intu Properties, which owns 17 malls in the UK, including nine of the 20 biggest, and partially owns three in Spain, has fallen into administration, a form of bankruptcy under UK law, after talks with its myriad creditors collapsed on Friday afternoon. Worth £13 billion at its peak over a decade ago, Intu is Britain’s biggest corporate casualty of the virus crisis so far, though its problems predated Covid’s arrival. Its demise leaves 132,000 jobs, both at the company and in the thousands of stores it hosts at its malls, on the line, as well as some £4.5 billion of debt.

Intu had until 11:59 p.m. Friday night to convince seven of its lenders to accept yet more covenant waivers on £600 million of loans. But those lenders refused to be swayed. They knew that Intu, which had only managed to collect 10% of its second-quarter rents by the due date, according to sources cited by The London Evening Standard, would never be able to repay the debt it owed.

This year alone, the company had £190 million of debt maturing and £93 million of swaps payable, compared to £168 million of cash and £129 million of other available funding facilities. Things would get particularly hairy thereafter, with £920 million of debt coming due in 2021, followed by £780 million in 2022, £1.03 billion in 2023 and £670 million in 2024.

Mid-morning Friday, Intu reported that “insufficient alignment and agreement [had] been achieved on such terms.” Hours later, it announced it had appointed three administrators at KPMG.

Before that, the company’s shares nose-dived in a near-perfect straight line from almost worthless (four pence a piece) to nearly totally worthless (just over one pence a piece). In early afternoon, the Financial Conduct Authority decided to suspend the listing the shares. Shortly after, the London Stock Exchange suspended the trading of those shares, at which point the company’s market value was just £24 million.

“The significance of Intu’s collapse “cannot be understated,” said Richard Lim, chief executive of Retail Economics. The coronavirus lockdown is speeding up a trend towards buying more consumer goods online, he said. “It’s going to be a really, really tough challenge. There’s no getting away from the fact we have too much retail space.”

And many of the occupants of that retail space are no longer paying their rents. Commercial landlords in the UK received just 18% of what they were owed by their last quarterly rent collection date (June 24), according to data collected by Re-Leased, the cloud-based commercial property management platform. That’s even lower than the 24% collected by the March quarterly rent day, laying bare the growing pains being felt by commercial real estate tenants, particularly the non-essential retailers that were forced to close between March 23 and June 15.

Their loss has been e-commerce’s gain. After years of gradual incremental growth, online spending surged to new highs during lockdown. By May, online sales accounted for 33.4% of retail spending in the UK (unlike US retail figures, this measure does not include motor vehicles and pharmaceutical products), compared with 19.6% in February, according to the Office for National Statistics.

“In many ways, the pandemic is an accelerator, and will really have forced change that would have taken five years or more to happen now,” retail analyst Mr Hyman told BBC News.

The UK’s brick-and-mortar retail meltdown was already well under way before Covid’s arrival, as a toxic cocktail of factors — high rents, high business taxes, low profitability, online competition, low consumer confidence and spending power, among others — took its toll on both the high street and the mall. A total of 117,000 retail jobs were lost and 14,500 stores were closed in 2019 alone as a result of brick-and-mortar retail companies hitting the wall or simply cutting costs in a desperate bid to stay afloat, according to a report published by the Centre for Retail Research.

The impact of wave after wave of store closures on the financial health of Intu — which had racked up huge debts to finance rapid growth in a sector that had started shrinking some time ago — was too much to bear. In 2019, it registered losses of £2 billion as many of its tenants either shut stores or ceased trading altogether. The value of its property assets had fallen 33% in little over two years. Its only chance of staving off bankruptcy was to raise new funds. It needed at least £1.3 billion.

It had only two ways of raising that much money: One, selling off its most valuable UK properties, but demand for malls was not exactly strong. In 2019, shopping center transactions hit their lowest level since 1993. Or two, raising fresh capital from investors. But this was an impossible task, given its shares had already collapsed to almost zero and the sector it was in — brick-and-mortar retail — was in the deepest depression and had the bleakest prognoses.

Now, the company is in administration. Its 2,500 employees, some of whom were furloughed during the lockdown, face a deeply uncertain future, So, too, do the 130,000 people who work in the thousands of shops housed in Intu’s malls. Intu insists that the underlying group operating companies remain unaffected and all shopping centers will continue to trade. But those decisions will no longer be up to Intu.

The new owners of Intu’s assets are Intu’s creditors — mainly its banks — and they will want KPMG to sell off those assets as quickly as possible. And in a market that has essentially stopped moving, that can only mean one thing: bargain basement prices of those properties, which will further depress asset values in the sector. And that is the last thing other large retail property owners such as Hammerson and Landsec, which face similar problems to Intu — including non-paying tenants, plunging asset values and rising losses — need right now. By Nick Corbishley, for WOLF STREET.

Owner of a small cafe that specializes in fine cakes and sandwiches tells me: “We’ll be lucky if we get half the normal number in July and August.” It’s now “all about damage control.” Read…  Barcelona’s Epic Tourism Boom Is Over, Now the Crisis Begins: My Walk to the Beach

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  65 comments for “Mall Giant Intu Collapses Into Bankruptcy

  1. Prof. Emeritus says:

    Can’t recall when I’ve been to a mall the last time, but I hope people will find a way to utilize those enormous spaces well. I assume most Intu properties would make great Amazon warehouses.

    • SteveK9 says:

      With any luck you won’t have to see another human being for the rest of your life.

    • MiTurn says:

      In the county where I live, DMV moved into our sole (and ghost-town) small-town mall, right next to an empty realtor’s office and the vape shop. But every other store front is empty, windows covered in ‘for lease’ signs.

      Make a great venue for filming a horror flick.

    • Anonymous says:

      Sounds like you wish Bezos to own everything on earth, including YOU.

      • Cas127 says:

        There are plenty of other internet based companies besides Amazon.

        And Amazon’s margins are actually pretty small in pct terms.

  2. MonkeyBusiness says:

    The only way malls will return is if the service level is at the level of the Japanese.

    In the rest of the world, the customer is king is just a slogan. In Japan they breath and live that philosophy.

    • Ook says:

      Exactly. People are willing to shop at places where they can get excellent advice and a great experience that takes into account that people can go to Amazon. Malls in Asia are like that, and they are doing well.

    • Twinkytwonk says:

      Agreed. The only thing physical stores can beat their online competitors at is customer service and they can’t even manage do that. In fact customer service in stores is the at the lowest level i have ever seen. They deserve to go under.

      • MiTurn says:

        “By May, online sales accounted for 33.4% of retail spending in the UK …compared with 19.6% in April, according to the Office for National Statistics.”

        That one statistic telegraphed the fundamental change that the pandemic generated. The trick is can the malls get those customers back. Surely not if they’re under quarantine.

      • Dan Romig says:

        There is one advantage that brick and mortar stores have over online stores, and that is having the merchandise on display. Being able to see things in person versus on a computer screen is not always important, but often it is.

        Plus, once you’re at a store, it’s nice to complete the transaction and have thing(s) in hand – assuming prices are competitive.

        I don’t shop often or buy much stuff, but I do want to do business with shops that carry products I’m interested in directly rather than buy online.

        • MiTurn says:

          Shame on me (and others) but I have visited a brick-and-mortar store to see an item ‘live’ and then shop for a better price on-line.

          Similarly, some big retailers will offer the same item cheaper on their online site. I bought a one-person fishing kayak from Wally World and it was 30% cheaper online and with free shipping. Figure that one out!

        • MonkeyBusiness says:

          Not only that. Retail is also immediate i.e. you can buy in store and take the merchandise home. Occasionally you would simply forget to buy things in advance.

        • Twinkytwonk says:

          In the UK if you buy an item online then you are covered by Distance seeking regulations which means you can return the item for a full refund even if you use it and find your don’t like it. If you buy the item from a shop then you can only return it if faulty.

      • flashlight joe says:

        ” In fact customer service in stores is the at the lowest level i have ever seen. ”

        I think a big part of the problem is taxes on wages and the encroachment of “employers” being tax agents of the Feds.

        Maybe we should get rid of this tax on labor.

        • Cas127 says:

          “employers” being tax agents of the Feds.”

          Too rarely pointed out…by design.

          The G loves to write laws that make other institutions their enforcers.

    • RagnarD says:

      Please give some examples of stores that u could imagine remaining in business In The USA due to outstanding customer service.

      Competing of course against Walmart target Home Depot Aldi and Amazon, etc. etc.

      And spare us any scenarios that only fit into a .1% zip code

  3. DawnsEarlyLight says:

    Malls will only revive if they can deliver the goods we want, faster than the internet. And that’s only if we are willing get off our a$$es to go pick them up!

    • Engin-ear says:

      Good point, but I think it works other way.

      ECommerce delivery time has improved dramatically over decades, the main driver being the logistics efficiency, powered by modern computers.

      If I decide to go to a mall, I do it on weekends.
      That’ll make in average 3 days between the decision to buy something and the getting the item.

      As soon as I may have the same item by home delivery under 3 days, the whole purpose of going to mall vanishes.

      Should we cry the replacement of horses by cars?

    • char says:

      Intu malls are more Mall of America than your small town mall. They don’t compete in the faster than internet.

  4. V8 says:

    Someone will buy the malls cheap and turn into housing developments.

    • MCH says:

      See Vallco Park in Cupertino, right next to Apple.

    • Crazy Chester says:

      True in the long term. But new developments will be competing with a large supply of foreclosed housing over the next few years. So society may be faced with an ugly if not dystopian quandary: large homeless encampments, placed there by government directives, in the parking lots just outside empty malls – malls with, after minor modifications (and a governmental willingness to ignore certain safety codes), the ability to provide shelter, bathing facilities, government/health services, food courts, access to bus routes and, I’m sure, free WiFi internet access. Hell, some of the parking lots might make nice community gardens if our government really takes an interest. The WiFi (with a 30″ screen at the end of each bunk bed, earbuds and perhaps a streaming service tossed in) will be an important societal tranquilizer. At least this seems to be the case judging from the coping evidence of the past 4 months. Seattle should try this now, exchanging a dead mall for the return of the “autonomous zone” to allow the protesters to form their own caliphate as a test area. And, this being a national test site, Seattle would be smart to pay for some Hollywood producers to come in and get the optics just right. Lots of options.

      • char says:

        The UK is not the USA. It has massive problems but those are different from those of the US because they can and will use different solutions to the problems created by Covid. For instance i don’t think unemployment will be so massive as in some parts of the US.

      • Thomas Roberts says:

        Allowing any sort of “autonomous zones” will always end in disaster.

        The only real option to deal with all the coming vacant commercial buildings is to bulldoze them and repurpose the land as residential and public parks. Alot of cities could be making a lot of public golf courses.

        As for whether these new housing developments would be a glut, that is important to note, but expanding housing into the city is more efficient than expanding out. Also, the amount of land that will be freed up is a lot smaller relative to the amount of land a city is already using for housing than you realize.

        Considering the amount of elderly is about to skyrocket, alot of the land could be used for small retirement homes (the apartment/group home kind). Considering the health of the country is in decline (physical health in this context) more retirement homes per capita will be in need.

        Overall, splitting land between parks, retirement homes, new manufacturing (if it starts to come back), and apartments would lead to better cities, that are more well laid out. This also has the advantage of putting apartments and retirement homes next to new large parks and making public transportation easier.

      • Fat Chewer. says:

        I’m sure squatters will occupy those spaces with or without government directives. Bankruptcy courts are going to be running at maximum capacity for years, giving the squatters a long time to get settled into Hôtel Skid Row.

      • Cas127 says:

        “will be an important societal tranquilizer.”

        Why do you think our porn is free and vast…

      • Anthony A. says:

        You are kidding, right?

    • Anthony A. says:

      Maybe the cities will buy or foreclose on them and make them into homeless shelters.

      • Thomas Roberts says:

        That would be a bad idea, because, malls are usually located near other businesses. The homeless would never just stay in the mall, they would roam around. Other businesses would be pi**ed and many would leave or go out of business.

        • lynn says:

          Well, if things get much worse and angrier they’ll just camp on the golf courses and riot. That would probably be a better solution anyway. Pavement isn’t healthy.

    • timbers says:

      That SOMEONE likely could be hedge funds or other Wall Street types to buy the malls, who will be given free money from the Fed or Washington. The hedge funds will turn them into cheap housing or something else to make money, and give you credit and loans to occupants…but the hedge funds will get the credit free from the Fed.

      That will help put more and more folks into more and more debt. Like when the hedge funds buy up homes that are foreclosed on, too. They are getting ready to do this, all with free money from the Fed and Washington.

      This is part of the master plan, to enslave the 99% into debt slavery.

      When debt slavery is accomplished, history suggests what might happen next. It’s a cycle that has repeated many times.

    • char says:

      Intu owns supermalls. They are to expensive to turn into housing developments. Intu has a (massive) debt problem, not a business problem (at least if there is a return to normal after covid)

  5. Javert Chip says:

    Given the US has 23 sq ft of B&M retail space per capita, and the UK has only 5, I’m a little surprised UK retail is also crashing in the face of e-commerce (yea, Covid pushed UK B&M over the edge, but they were already standing on the edge).

    This probably means US B&M retail has a whole lot further to fall.

    One thing the US Covid lock-down has taught me (and I’m somewhere between B&M retail agnostic to hostile) is American culture is conditioned to “go out”. However, many current venues (B&M shopping, movie theaters, et al) are just plain gross (how anyone survives eating the unadulterated crap at mall food courts is a mystery). The door is certainly wide open for new concepts.

    • MiTurn says:

      I think that the different development of land-use practices, more land available, less dense population concentrations, lack of mass transit, and other factors might explain how retail space, specifically malls, developed differently in the US than the UK. But still, you’re point remains, there is too much of it.

    • Jeremy Wolff says:

      The U.S. is 40 times the size of England with a population less than 10 times as big. Sufficient to say we can make things bigger per capita.

  6. Patrick Lewis says:

    intu might have collapsed but they will have a buyer i am sure of that, it will be in the form of Peel Holdings and John Whittaker, the main problem with these sites are they are very nice but when these companies buy them they buy them on increasing rents every time but all the stores have to earn more to cover which pushers up prices and that makes the customer look on Amazon, so these landlords need to start reducing the rents or they will lose the lot, maybe as an idea as there is plenty to do in some of these malls, so maybe they could charge say £3.50 for parking but knowing them they would lease the parking to someone on the bases of the spaces and then go to the banks and leverage the money then they will be back to sq1.

    • Petunia says:

      I don’t pay for parking and I don’t buy memberships.

      • Zantetsu says:

        Cool story bro.

      • Jeremy Wolff says:

        If you pay taxes you pay for parking. If you buy goods at stores that provide free parking, you pay for parking.

        • Petunia says:

          I know that, but I won’t feed a meter to shop or pay for a membership because those “features” are too predatory on top of an already outrageous sales tax.

        • Jeremy Wolff says:

          Just depends on the organization. There are some great parking meters with variable pricing which only makes people who use it pay for it and it is convenient and makes parking a breeze.

          There are some memberships which are awesome. It is one simple fee and you can quit anytime and easy to use. You always get a value multiple times the cost of the membership.

          Just keep looking! These tools might be prone to dishonest practices, but that can also be really good.

      • char says:

        advise. Don’t move to the Netherlands. All malls have paid parking and 3.50 an hour is cheap.

        • RagnarD says:

          Well…reality is parking is never really free. When we make it “free” it gets over used and abused — that is people well over drive.

          if you charge for parking and people may take alternative forms of transportation to avoid paying for parking such as a bus or a moped or a bicycle or shop online. Etc. etc.

          This is what we learn from tollS for express lanes on highways. It gets ppl thinking economically in the right way.

  7. David says:

    I see the early signs of a deflationary collapse. These centres just cannot command the rents to justify their values. Town centre locations have value for desperately needed housing in the U.K. but it’s very hard to see how they could be altered without a total redevelopment. But looking at the list of Intu sites I’m familiar with, Lakeside, Trafford, Metro Centre, etc most are big, sprawling (and maybe dated?) out of town developments. They must be essentially worthless.

    • Javert Chip says:

      I don’t really see deflationary pressure in the B&M collapse.

      Retail (excluding Covid) is doing just fine – it’s only B&M that’s collapsing. Ecommerce growth more than makes up for B&M decline.

      People are simply voting “hell no, I won’t go” on the B&M mall experience.

      • char says:

        I think David meant deflationary pressure in rents, not in “mall” retail expenditure. And i don’t think people voted for “hell no. I won’t go.” but that malls can’t function if 60% of “mall” retail is done online.

    • Petunia says:

      The UK is famous for being a nation of shopkeepers, not malls, like America. The UK needs to go back to what they do best, what people around the world loved about them. America has always been about the next new thing.

  8. Hobart Chic says:

    I’m going back to stores more often. It takes too long to get things delivered now as planes are barely flying here. Our retailers have been overcharged for retail space for years. It’s about time Land lords got a dose of reality. It is true that retailers need to up the in store experience too. Hiring better staff and training them is key. Too many complacent staff that need moving to greener pastures. Quality of goods online often looks better than reality, so back to stores I go.

    • Petunia says:

      You are right about delivery getting slower. I recently bought something that came out of Germany and got it in less than a week. Getting something from California takes longer.

  9. Edward says:

    Making the malls more social spaces (and selling them on that basis) can help.

    Online is great but certain age groups need social interaction and there can be £’s in social.

    Food, mingling, retail on the side. Online can’t do that.

    Even daytime nursery. A large enough mall can become a social village with a reason to exist and revenue to pay for its existence.

    Pure retail is on life support.

    • Jeremy Wolff says:

      You are spot on, Edward. People want to spend time with friends outside of their home. I’m excited to see the growth of social experiences in town centers. I personally hate shopping, so I love this trend.

  10. leo says:

    the trafford centre near manchester made going home from worka nightmare -got home 11.30pm one day near xmas. the scoundrel Whittaker clearly used bribes to overturn planning refusals . remember Gummer. it should never have been allowed to be built there. No doubt Whittaker from the Isle of Man,will be more than ok.
    Amazon are far to big and should be made to pay proper taxes; a bit late for the malls I know.

  11. Ian says:

    But wait, the government was paying most of the salaries. Surely that is all the costs a business has so the owners can sit enjoying their time off and just wait for corona to end? Or is that perhaps a tad simplistic? I will consult the business gurus down there in No 10.

  12. Brant Lee says:

    Brick and Mortar can’t come close to competing in price with online sellers. Warehouses and distribution can be set up in any old backstreet building or in the desert for that matter. Also online doesn’t have to deal with the security and gigantic theft problems.

    The catch to selling online is the delivery cost and a small enterprise can’t come close to getting the rates that Amazon negotiates with UPS, FedEx, USPS, etc.

    The return policy is also important and it will be abused since online is a faceless business. Many people may wear a garment once, then return it. Expensive tools could be used slightly, then a return attempted. And so on.

    Perhaps the future of retail is a backstreet warehouse where the local public is welcome to shop also. If we get past the virus.

    • Jeremy Wolff says:

      If everything is backstreet what will be mainstreet? Pricing will find an equilibrium and stores will rent. Even if they chould get more money from converting to housing, local planning offices won’t allow it as they want permeable streetfronts.

      I wonder if some of that theft will move over to package theft. and who pays for that?

    • char says:

      Backstreet also has shrinkage and no footfall. I don’t see it happening

  13. Just Some Random Guy says:

    Malls of 2020 are like travel agencies of 2000. Dead companies walking. Has nothing to do with Corona.

    • Javert Chip says:

      I agree there are many fewer travel agencies & nobody uses an agent to visit Uncle Ralph for Thanksgiving.

      However, the surviving agents have shifted to higher-end and/or specialty travel, and there is significant demand for that expertise.

      I’m a retired geezer, and, pre-covid, my crowd did 3-4 international trips/year. BTW a good travel agent can ALWAYS get you a lower fare for a cruise, or higher-end tours (A&K African safari).

      A better example of agent value-add is booking trains (Orient Express trans-Siberia, trans-Australia, trans-Canada, etc). These trips generally involves tons of poorly-disclosed but highly attractive options (example: on the trans-Canada, can you overnight ins national park great lodge, like Banff, and just hop-on the next train?).

      Even with an incredible amount of due diligence, experienced geezers (I’ve been to 86 countries) will miss or fail to understand options on a complex trip (especially pre-payment, special travel periods, refunds & local options). We deal with a tiny number of agents (2-3), and nominate 1 member in our group to negotiate with the agent.

      How is the agent compensated? Commission on an A&K safari or special Viking river cruise for all of us (total $40-60,000) easily makes it worthwhile for her.

  14. Marc 60 says:

    The problem faced by many B&M shops in the high streets is not jut very high rents but also very high Business rate council taxes. Same is true for the Malls.

    Add to this the fact the council then made virtually all if not all parking expensive pay and display plus hefty parking fines and the councils as much as the Landlords killed the High Street and B&M. Parking is the one advantage the Malls had over the high street.

    As for anyone that suggested people need these retail spaces to socialise you have to be kidding me everyone walks around with their face glued to a screen hell they can’t even stop whilst eating together.

    Humankind has been changed into mindless screen clicking morons who now believe even take out food comes with a few clicks of an app.

    We may have great big TV screens and a million things to stream and watch and a powerful computer in our phones but it has turned most into mindless consumption morons virtually incapable of real human interactions. We reap what we sow and most of us have been sold down the river without even realising it. Hopefully more people wake up before its to late to do anything about it as personally I really fear for the younger generations and what their futures look like.

    • Curious says:

      Tech is taking over. Cogito, ergo sum is being updated to Clicko, ergo sum.

  15. R2D2 says:

    As someone who lives very near a huge UK Intu mall, let me tell you the real reasons Intu has collapsed…

    1. Expanding into overpriced malls, just as Amazon online took off!

    2. Greedy and relentless rental increases for their tenant stores. One pitch for a popup booth about ~10ft long is ~£100,000 a year!

    3. Lack of stock in-mall that never has as much choice as Amazon!

    4. Grossly unfair national taxes. Intu paid ~30% biz tax. Amazon online pays ~1%!

    5. Eyewatering, greedy and overpriced local taxes (biz rates). A big store in a mall will be paying ~£2,000,000 a year even before the doors open!

    6. Greedy and reckless local government fees for (govt-owned) parking lots. One Intu mall had free parking until 2015… The local council brought in fees of £1-20 per car per day… Intu footfall collapsed by 6 million in the following 5 years!

    So… a mix of breathtaking CEO failures, inept Board, feeble UK government too scared to properly tax US online giants, greedy state departments who enrich themselves by oppressive tax, and reckless local parking taxes… has caused the collapse of Intu…

    What will probably happen now is a prepacked bankruptcy to selloff Intu on the cheap to US, UK or European vulture-capital funds, followed by most of the malls being 30-50% shut-down and turned into residential homes or “posh” apartments.

    What a mess :-(

    • char says:

      I assume 6 million a year. That is 20k per day. Many malls did not did those numbers on black Friday 2001. That mall is definitely a supermall.

  16. Bigc says:

    What no has mentioned is the role ZERO RATES has played.
    So much capital has been mis allocated due to funds,Pension,Insurance, Hedge,etc looking for any of yield. Zero rates has become a total disaster, just look at the cost of housing, young people have little hope of owning a home in this environment and housing will be the next shoe to drop.

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