Stamford mall owner’s earnings drop
STAMFORD — The owner of the Stamford Town Center mall saw its 2017 earnings plunge as it grappled with organizational changes and a challenging retail environment, according to the company’s latest earnings report released this week.
Bloomfield Hills, Mich.-based Taubman Centers posted annual profits of about $55 million, dropping 49 percent from 2016. Its fourth-quarter 2017 bottom line fell about 30 percent to around $20 million.
The declines reflected about $14 million in restructuring charges for the year and other factors including bad-debt expenses and the impact of hurricane-caused damage and disruption to its mall in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Full-year revenues ticked up 3 percent, to around $629 million. Fourth-quarter revenues increased 4 percent to about $172 million.
In an earnings call Friday, Taubman officials said they were optimistic about their portfolio of 27 shopping centers in U.S. and east Asia, as they pointed to milestones that included lease signings for about 40 brands in the past year. But the results are unlikely to pacify critics of the company’s management such as hedge fund Land and Buildings, an activist investor that is based in downtown Stamford next to the mall.
“The retail landscape has stabilized over the past six to nine months, and we are seeing encouraging momentum in our leasing efforts,” Robert Taubman, the company’s chairman, president and CEO, said on the call.
Tenant sales per square foot averaged $810 in 2017, an increase of about 2 percent from 2016. Fourth-quarter sales moved up around 3 percent, the sixth-consecutive quarter of growth.
Leased space in Taubman malls averaged 96 percent at the end of 2017, flat compared with 2016. Average rents per square foot averaged nearly $62 last year, up 1 percent from 2016.
Results for Stamford Town Center were not included in the earnings report. The mall’s anchor tenants include Macy’s, Saks Off 5th and Barnes & Noble stores, as well as a restaurant row on Tresser Boulevard.
A message left for Land and Buildings was not immediately returned.
In response to pressure from Land and Buildings, Taubman recently announced changes to how it elects its board members.
Taubman said it would implement one-year board terms in this year’s election, appointed two new independent directors and pledged to add a third new independent director by its 2019 annual meeting. Nine people sit on the board.
But the plan did not satisfy Land and Buildings, which wanted the board directors elected last year, including Robert Taubman, to voluntarily stand for election this year.
Land and Buildings’ initiatives have included unsuccessful runs for the board last year by the hedge fund’s chief investment officer, Jon Litt, and ally Charles Elson, a finance professor at the University of Delaware.
The hedge fund has recommended Elson and David Contis, who has served as president of mall operations at Simon Property Group, as candidates in this year’s board election.
Many of Litt’s criticisms of Taubman center on the company’s power structure. The Taubman family’s disproportionate voting rights discourage turnover on the company’s board and accountability to shareholders and have led to poor management and underperforming earnings, Litt has said.
At the same time, Litt has underscored his belief in the retail industry.
“The recent strong activity on Black Friday is just the latest in a series of proof points underscoring that the top malls in the country, such as the Class A malls owned by Taubman, remain destinations for consumers,” Litt said in November. “As the stocks of the companies owning these malls continue to be undervalued, Land & Buildings is confident that there is a significant opportunity to realize value in these names.”
Taubman shares closed Friday at $58.24, up nearly 6 percent from their Thursday closing total.
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