* Considering equity raising to fix balance sheet
* Expects 2019 comparable net rental income to fall 9%
* Says CVAs “slightly” worse than expected
* Stock falls nearly 18%, hitting others in sector (Recasts, adds details on cash call, debt, CEO comments)
By Samantha Machado and Pushkala Aripaka
Nov 6 (Reuters) - British shopping centre operator Intu Properties said on Wednesday it could raise equity, alongside asset sales, to tackle its debt burden, knocking nearly 18% off its share price.
“Our number one priority is to fix the balance sheet ... options include disposing of assets, where we are in the advanced stages of selling two of our Spanish assets, through to raising equity,” Matthew Roberts, Intu’s chief executive, said.
Intu shares were down 14% at 0941 GMT after the owner of Manchester’s Trafford Centre also said it expects annual like-for-like net rental income to be down by about 9% and predicted another decline in 2020, although at a slower rate.
Shares in other British property groups, including Hammerson Plc, British Land and Land Securities , also weakend on the third quarter trading update from Intu, which has 20 shopping centres in Britain and Spain.
Many retailers are closing stores to cut costs and focus on online sales in a tough British economic environment, with Mothercare shutting all its British stores.
“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,” Roberts said in a statement.
Intu, which had net debt of 4.8 billion pounds ($6.18 billion) at the end of 2018, adopted a new five-year strategy in July to reshape its business and mend its balance sheet.
It said it had cut net external debt by 210 million pounds in the quarter ended Sept. 30 by selling half its interest in its Derby shopping centre for $243 million.
Before Wednesday’s announcement, Intu’s combined credit score - which measures how likely a company is to default in the next year on a scale of 100 (very unlikely) to 1 (highly likely) - was “2”, Refinitiv Eikon data showed.
Last year British billionaire John Whittaker and Hammerson dropped two separate bids for Intu, but there has been renewed media speculation of a takeover, with some suggestion of private equity interest in the shopping centre operator.
Intu said more than half the reduction in net rental income is expected from the impact of company voluntary agreements (CVA), including those of retailers Arcadia and Monsoon, which are used to restructure leases. ($1 = 0.7763 pounds) (Reporting by Samantha Machado and Pushkala Aripaka in Bengaluru and writing by Noor Zainab Hussain; Editing by Saumyadeb Chakrabarty and Alexander Smith)