"Westfield is the best fit for us and a natural extension of our strategy", Unibail's chief executive Christopher Cuvillier said following the announcement of the proposed deal, which would be worth $24.7 billion including debt. The company also is developing malls in Brussels and in Hamburg, Germany. Unibail-Rodamco, which is the largest mall operator in Europe, will replace its properties with the Westfield logo.
The announcement comes just a week after Westfield's largest United Kingdom shopping centre rival Intu announced a £3.4 billion deal with property giant Hammerson, set to create the UK's largest property company worth £21 billion.
The cash-and-stock deal values shares of Australia-based Westfield at $7.55 a share, an 18% premium over Monday's closing price.
Lowy said it made sense to sell because Unibail offered a "very good price", but acknowledged that the sale partly reflected global consolidation and the pressure on retailers. It now includes premier shopping malls in California, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey and London, as well as shopping areas at Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey and Kennedy International Airport in New York.
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Unibail Rodamco is the largest commercial real estate company in Europe and will own 104 properties across the world when the acquisition is complete, reportedly resulting in cost savings of $100 million a year. Unibail expects the deal to close in the first half of 2018. "Shares of such companies have been hit hard and store closures are accelerating, pressuring landlords to fill empty space and reinvent shopping centers", Pooja Thakur Mahrotri and Matthew Burgess write for Bloomberg.
Sir Lowy says he and his sons, joint chief executives Steven and Peter Lowy, will step down as executives and become investors.
"The transaction announced today is the culmination of the strategic journey Westfield has been on since its 2014 restructure", Lowy said in a statement. Westfield's portfolio is valued at $32 billion. "They're already 50 percent through that online retail switch", Morningstar analyst Tony Sherlock said of the deal.
Oh, and last Friday he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth "for his contribution to the British economy and philanthropic efforts in the country".