The owner of Manchester’s Trafford Centre has hired advisers to work on a critical restructuring of its balance sheet as it prepares to tap investors for new capital.
Sky News has learnt that Intu Properties has drafted in PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) to work alongside its existing City advisers.
The appointment, which is understood to have been made in the last few days, comes ahead of a crucial Christmas period for Intu and rival shopping centre-owners such as Hammerson.
Intu, which warned earlier this month that it was “likely” to require fresh equity, has been battling the escalating high street maelstrom for months.
The company owns eight of the UK’s biggest shopping centres and boasts 400 million customer visits to its sites every year.
It was one of the biggest objectors to Sir Philip Green’s restructuring of the Top Shop-owner Arcadia Group earlier this year, eventually helping to secure improved terms for creditors.
Intu’s shares have fallen by more than 80% during the past 12 months, heightening speculation among investors that it may receive fresh takeover interest.
The company, which counts the Lakeside mall in Essex among its other assets, wants to slash its debt-pile by £1bn through a combination of new equity and asset disposals.
Matthew Roberts, who was appointed as Intu’s chief executive just over six months ago, said recently that fixing its balance sheet was his “number one priority”.
“We have a clear plan to do this and are working to make material progress over the next six months,” he said.
“We continue to consider all options to put us in the best position to deal with both our short- and medium-term liquidity requirements as we approach our next material debt maturity in early 2021.
“These options include disposing of assets, where we are in the advanced stages of selling two of our Spanish assets, through to raising equity, which is also likely to form part of the solution.”
PwC’s remit is expected to encompass balance sheet restructuring options as well as supervising any discussions with Intu’s lenders in the coming months.
Mr Roberts told investors this month that he remained optimistic about Intu’s future despite the fact that the recent spate of Company Voluntary Arrangements (CVAs) from retailers had been worse than expected.
Insolvencies, store closures and rent cuts in the retail sector – including at companies such as Carpetright, Debenhams, House of Fraser and New Look – have damaged sentiment towards retail landlords in recent years.
Mothercare placed its UK business into administration earlier this month, while Clintons, the greeting cards chain, faces a similar fate unless creditors agree to support a CVA.
Intu has already seen two takeover approaches – from Hammerson and a consortium led by its largest shareholder, Peel Holdings – disappear.
Its shares are trading at a massive discount to asset value as investors wrestle with the implications of its multi-billion pound debt pile.
An Intu spokeswoman declined to comment on Thursday evening.