TORONTO (Reuters) - Retailer Hudson’s Bay Co (HBC.TO) is unlikely to take its vast real estate holdings public any time soon, the head of RioCan Real Estate Investment Trust REI_u.TO, a partner in a venture that holds some of those assets, said on Thursday.
North America’s oldest company, HBC is under pressure from activist investor Jonathan Litt, who disclosed a 4.3 percent stake in the company in June, to get cash from its real estate assets or take action to boost income from them.
Initial public offerings of two joint ventures with billions of dollars in U.S., European, and Canadian real estate are “unlikely at this point” because market conditions are poor, RioCan founder and Chief Executive Edward Sonshine said in an interview in his Toronto office.
The retailer formed those ventures in February 2015, one with RioCan, among North America’s largest retail REITs, and another with U.S.-based Simon Property Group Inc (SPG.N). It said at the time the combined value was C$3.8 billion ($3 billion).
The Simon joint venture, HBS Global Properties, has since added investors and European properties.
Hudson’s Bay spokesman Andrew Blecher declined to comment.
But he noted that Hudson’s Bay Executive Chairman Richard Baker said in a June 9 earnings conference call that the opportunity to do an IPO was still available, but that conditions had grown tougher in the past six months.
Sonshine, a former real estate lawyer whose firm owns 12 percent of the Canadian real estate venture, said an IPO was not realistic.
“The prevailing narrative is that retail is dead,” said Sonshine, who believes otherwise. “When the market says that’s the prevailing narrative, you can’t fight it.”
Sonshine said Baker had many other options to get cash from HBC’s properties, including sale-leasebacks, financing or subleasing. “It shouldn’t be hard because it’s great real estate.”
Litt had called on HBC’s board to consider options including repurposing its real estate, shuttering stores, or taking the company private.
HBC said it set up the ventures to pave the way for an IPO or alternative transaction to generate income from their holdings, which include prime real estate in Canada and the United States.
RioCan, founded in 1993, focuses on major urban markets and has been reducing holdings in low-growth markets and diversifying its tenants.
($1 = 1.2590 Canadian dollars)
Reporting by Solarina Ho; Editing by Jim Finkle and Richard Chang