Castleton Square and Commercial Real Estate and Shopping Centers and Retailers and Property Management and Simon Property Group and Department Stores and Retail Development and Real Estate Investment Trust and Greenwood Park and Retail and Washington Square and Real Estate & Retail

Sears closings shouldn't be big problem for Simon

December 29, 2011

Simon Property Group has more shopping malls with Sears as a tenant than any other landlord, but any closings are likely have a negligible effect on the Indianapolis-based real estate company's overall earnings, an analyst says.

Sears Holding Corp. said this week it will close 100 to 120 of its full-line Sears and Kmart stores. The company hasn’t said how many of each brand will close.

Simon has Sears as a tenant in 137 of its 190 malls, while competitor General Growth Properties Inc. has Sears in 110 of its 167 malls, said Andrew Johns, an analyst at Green Street Advisors Inc. in Newport Beach, Calif.

Even if the closings involve numerous Simon properties, the company has the size and resources to deal with the impact, said Alexander Goldfarb, managing director and senior real estate investment trust analyst at Sandler O’Neill & Partners in New York.

“For a company like Simon, it doesn’t move the needle,” said Goldfarb, who regularly follows Simon.

Investors seem to agree. Simon shares hit a 52-week high of $131.92 on Tuesday, after Sears' announcement. Shares closed at $129.03 each on Wednesday, and were up more than a dollar Thursday morning. 

Local Simon-owned malls that include a Sears department store are Castleton Square, Washington Square and Greenwood Park.

Whether Simon moves new tenants into a closed Sears space will depend on how the mall is faring overall, Goldfarb predicted. If it’s a high-traffic mall, Simon will likely take advantage of the opportunity for an overhaul.

The average Sears is 130,000 square feet, Goldfarb noted. “It’s not a mega-box, but it’s a decent size,” he said. “You can do a lot with that space.”

The Sears in local Simon malls are bigger than average, ranging from 194,680 square feet at Washington Square to 256,600 square feet at Greenwood Park.

Sears owns the buildings that house 514 of its mall stores and leases 328, Goldfarb said. In cases where Sears vacates a lease, it will be easier for the mall owners to bring in new tenants, he said.

Where the mall is already in decline, Goldfarb said, “you’d be hard-pressed to see why a developer would want to do anything with it.”

Each scenario is possible in the local market. While Castleton Square continues to generate steady traffic, Washington Square is struggling, with occupancy at 74.2 percent, 20 points lower than the average for regional malls in Simon’s portfolio.

“Generally, when Sears decides to close, it’s the lower-productivity stores with lower sales per square foot,” Johns said.

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