Israel's Azrieli Q4 profit jumps, sets up fund to help tenants

TEL AVIV, March 25 (Reuters) - Azrieli Group, one of Israel’s largest shopping mall operator, reported a jump in quarterly profit, boosted by a capital gain, and said it had created a safety net to help its tenants who are being harmed by the coronavirus outbreak.

Azrieli said fourth-quarter net profit grew to 1.1 billion shekels ($306 million) from 459 million a year earlier.

The firm in November sold Granite Hacarmel Investments, which owns cooking gas distributor Supergas, to holding company Elco Ltd for 1.02 billion shekels. It booked a profit of 373 million shekels from the sale.

Chairwoman Danna Azrielli said that while the coronavirus pandemic was unexpected, the company entered the crisis with “exceptional financial soundness.”

“We have also initiated measures to create a safety net for our tenants, such as establishing a sizeable, 100 million shekel ($28 million) financial aid fund for loans and grants to our small and medium-sized tenants, in addition to a list of further relaxations,” she said.

Israel’s government has told people to stay home as much as possible to minimise the risk of infection, and most businesses and malls have closed.

Azrieli’s board said it would pay a 300 million shekel dividend and possibly distribute another dividend of up to 300 million shekels this year.

In the quarter, net operating income rose to 408 million shekels from 388 million, while funds from operations dipped to 414 million shekels from 443 million.

$1 = 3.6236 shekels Reporting by Steven Scheer; Editing by Ari Rabinovitch