A COVID-19 update from SmartCentres REIT Executive Chairman Mitchell Goldhar
March 23, 2020
To our valued unitholders and stakeholders,
It goes without saying that we are all focused on the challenging COVID-19 situation, and how it is affecting our families, our communities and our daily lives. Global efforts to contain the virus involve all of us continuing to care and take action.
SmartCentres was founded on the belief that Canadians deserve convenient access to fair and affordable retail, for themselves and for their families. The guiding principles of our open-air, value-oriented shopping centres have never been more relevant than they are right now. We are supporting Canadians through various means, including the support of our retailers who provide groceries, pharmacy, medical, general merchandise and other essentials to customers in the communities we live in and serve across Canada.
As a business, our ways of working are changing temporarily, but I assure you that SmartCentres is stepping up, not stepping back:
- We have enhanced cleaning and sanitization throughout our centres, and our offices.
- Our Business Continuity Leadership Team, led by our President and CEO, Peter Forde, is consistently monitoring the dynamic situation, making proactive decisions to protect our Associates, our communities, our tenants and our company.
- We are leveraging technology to effectively operate our properties and our business in the circumstances.
- We have built resilience into our operations, ensuring the capacity to maintain critical business processes remotely, from the processing of tenant rent and cash receipts, to the payment of our obligations.
- We have implemented a work-from-home policy, to limit the potential spreading of the virus, and we are committed to heightened service levels, regardless of the circumstances.
- We are providing our retailers with operational service hour flexibility, dependent on the essential nature of their business.
- We are looking into ways to help support our small independent retailers through these uncertain times.
- We are offering use of our vacant real estate to government and health authorities, to help support the Canadian medical system.
SmartCentres has always preferred a disciplined and measured approach, ensuring steady growth while protecting and positioning against market volatility. This starts with our largest tenant being Walmart, the world’s largest company and a retailer that is experiencing a steady flow of in-store customers around the world, including here at home, as Canadians prioritize the need for essentials. Walmart Canada announced Friday that they will be hiring 10,000 additional Associates to further support this demand. 75% of our properties are anchored by Walmart and, along with our other value-oriented retailers, our centres are usually the central, and sometimes the only, marketplace in their communities. This is evermore true today.
SmartCentres continues to manage and protect unitholders’ investments for the long term. We own 3,500 acres of prime real estate, across all Canadian provinces, the greatest concentration of which is in the Greater Toronto Area. We prudently manage our balance sheet, ensuring low debt levels (42% of our asset value) and ample liquidity for unforeseen financial challenges, such as now. Further, over 50% of our rent comes from strong creditworthy companies such as Walmart, Loblaws, Shoppers Drug Mart, Canadian Tire, Sobeys, Dollarama, Rexall, Home Depot, McDonald’s, the LCBO, Rogers, Telus and the major banks.
Furthermore, we have nearly $6 billion in unencumbered assets (i.e. assets free of debt available to raise capital), strong support from all major banks, and the capacity to use our $500 million approved and available operating line of credit and cash on hand. We are in a strong financial position to weather the storm. In addition, we have many other levers to pull on, if necessary, as we currently think and operate in a new way, until a return to business normalcy, be that one, two, three, or more months from now.
Throughout our company’s history, SmartCentres has been the paradigm of resilience and strength in our industry, and beyond, by adapting to change and successfully navigating difficult conditions. Turbulent times are never pleasant, but SmartCentres was always built for heavy weather; and, as such, it will deliver us safely to clearer skies ahead.
Please continue to take care of yourselves, each other, and our communities. Rest assured, we are “here” looking after SmartCentres REIT.