Westfield to boost development spending in 2010

MELBOURNE/SYDNEY: Australia's Westfield Group said on Tuesday, May 4 it would launch about A$1 billion ($2.98 billion) in development projects this year, including at home and in the US, as market conditions improve.

Westfield, the world's biggest shopping mall landlord by market value, also kept its dividend forecast for 2010 at 64 Australian cents a share, down from A$0.94 last year, following a cut in its payout ratio to 70% to 75% of operational earnings.

"We saw continued strong results from Australian portfolio and now we are seeing improving conditions, particularly in retail sales performance in the US and UK," Steven Lowy, co-managing director, told a news conference.

As the market conditions improve, Westfield expects to start about A$800 million of development projects in Australia and $200 million in the US. After 2010, Westfield said it planned to commence between A$500 million to A$1 billion of development projects every year.

"We believe at this point of cycle, the returns in Australia are better than the ones we can generate out of here at the moment," said Peter Lowy, another co-managing director.

Ahead of Tuesday's 1Q, analysts' forecasts were in line with the group's forecast of A$0.64 cents per security, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Westfield shares were up about 2% in early trade on Tuesday, outperforming a 1% rise in the sector A-REIT index. -- Reuters

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