Most stocks have recovered from the March crash caused by COVID-19. Simon Property Group’s (NYSE:SPG) SPG stock, the largest U.S. operator of shopping malls, has not.
Simon opened for trade August 12 at about $68 per share, a market cap of $20.3 billion. At the start of the year it traded near $150. The company’s malls were hit hard by the virus, and so were its tenants. Some of the biggest, like J.C. Penney (NYSE:JCP), have declared bankruptcy.
Before the virus Simon had a long-term vision of turning some suburban malls into mixed-use developments, with outdoor shopping, lots of restaurants, even residences. The model for what’s possible is Prudential Financial’s (NYSE:PRU) Avalon in Georgia, with a Whole Foods, Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA) showroom, and 200 luxury apartments.
But the crisis has put Simon into a more desperate situation with two different paths for the future.
Amazon and SPG Stock
Analysts call this a move of desperation, and it is. Small warehouses, stocked with staples, can let Amazon fulfill its desire for one-day delivery. Empty parking lots could handle semi-trailers at night and delivery vans during the day. Store roofs could become drone launching pads.
CEO David Simon declined to address the speculation at the company’s earnings call. The question came up after Simon reported earnings of $254 million, 83 cents per share, on revenue of $1.06 billion for the June quarter.
Revenue was down 24% from a year ago and profits were cut in half. They weren’t enough to justify its normal dividend of $1.30 per quarter, a yield of 7.76%. But it’s remarkable that, given how many of its malls were forced to close by the pandemic, it had any earnings at all.
Owning the Stores
More material for Simon is its other path, to own its tenants.
The company has partnered with privately-held Authentic Brands, a licensing outfit that already owned Simon tenants like Nine West, Forever 21, and Jones New York, to buy Brooks Brothers for $305 million. The deal will keep 125 of 200 Brooks’ stores open.
The bid was originally a “stalking horse,” a lowball offer Simon hoped others might top. But the deadline for bids passed with no one offering more.
Creative deals like the Authentic Brands tie-up have some Simon bulls valuing the company at over $100/share. But the new model is unproven.
Real estate analysts think “Class A” mall owners like Simon may have hit bottom, but my pre-pandemic visits told a different story. The malls I saw early in 2020 were nearly empty, a Potemkin Village or western studio set.
There’s a third leg to the trouble triad.
The Bottom Line
The pandemic has compressed a decade of change into a year. One of those changes is the switch from “shopping” at stores to buying. Stocks in companies doing fashion online, like Stitch Fix (NASDAQ:SFIX), have stayed strong.
Fashion may come back after the pandemic, but likely in a very different way. For Simon to have a future, it must find a way onto that new bandwagon, either through redevelopment or liquidation.
Dana Blankenhorn has been a financial and technology journalist since 1978. His latest book is Technology’s Big Bang: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow with Moore’s Law, essays on technology available at the Amazon Kindle store. Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @danablankenhorn. As of this writing he owned shares in AMZN.