Thai mall developer Central Pattana to invest up to $468 mln in ASEAN push

Reuters

* Plans to spend up to 15 bln baht in Southeast Asia

* To open first foreign mall in Malaysia in 2016

* Aims to open shopping malls in Indonesia, Vietnam (Recast with loan and investment plans)

By Khettiya Jittapong and Manunphattr Dhanananphorn

BANGKOK, Sept 3 (Reuters) - Thailand's largest shopping malldeveloper, Central Pattana Pcl (CPN), said it plans tospend up to 15 billion baht ($468 million) on its push outsideits national borders as it targets high growth in spending amongSoutheast Asian consumers.

CPN will use the funds to open two to three new malls in theregion over the next five years including its first overseasshopping centre in Malaysia in 2016, a senior executive said,adding that it would use loans, cash, and the proceeds from thesale of a property fund.

The plans come as other Thai companies, such as sukiyakirestaurant chain MK Restaurant Group and Thai fashiondesigner Jaspal, have said they plan to expand in the region.Central Retail Corp, owned by CPN's parent, the unlisted retailconglomerate Central Group, plans to open its first CentralDepartment Store in Jakarta in 2014.

"We will spend around 4-6 billion baht per store in ASEANwhere we see growth opportunities as it will become a singlemarket," Wallaya Chirathivat, CPN's senior executive vicepresident for business development, told a news conference.

She added that the company plans to open new malls inIndonesia and Vietnam in the next five years, and willeventually open 10 more locations in Malaysia.

CPN is majority owned by the Chirathivat family, Thailand'ssecond-richest family according to a ranking last year by ForbesMagazine. The company competes with unlisted Mall Group, whichowns Siam Paragon and Emporium shopping malls in Bangkok andothers elsewhere in Thailand.

As Thai companies ramp up their expansion plans, some areincreasingly relying on debt.

Charoen Pokphand Foods, which bought HongKong-listed C.P. Pokphand Ltd for $2.1 billion, sawits debt to EBITDA - a gearing ratio - rise to 24.59 times inthe first half of 2013, versus 7.85 in 2012 and 3.34 in 2011.

Chaiyatorn Sricharoen, an analyst at Bualuang Securities,said he was not concerned about CPN's debt level given itsstrong cash position, while the current Thai consumptionslowdown has not severely affected its operations becausespending in shopping centres remains strong.

"Debt should remain at a comfortable level. Even factoringin capex for all undisclosed projects, net gearing would peak atonly 0.6 times, far below CPN's policy cap of 1.0 times,"Sricharoen said.

CPN's net gearing dropped to 52 percent from about 80percent in the first quarter after a recent $367 million shareoffering and debt repayment.

At the end of June, CPN's debt-to-equity ratio was at 0.66times, the lowest ever, according to Thomson Reuters' Eikon.

CPN shares, valued at $5.4 billion, have fallen 28 percentin the past three months, underperforming a 15 percent drop ofthe main index, due to concerns about weak consumerspending and that poor market conditions could force the companyto postpone its plan to sell a property fund.

Market participants have anticipated CPN could raise about10 billion baht from selling its Central Plaza Chiangmaishopping mall into the fund.

In Thailand, CPN aims to open three to five shopping malls ayear with an average investment of 12 to 15 billion baht a year,mostly in major cities in the provinces, with a target of 35malls by 2016 from 23 at the end of 2013.($1 = 32.0700 Thai baht) (Additional reporting by Patturaja Murugaboopathy in BANGALORE;Editing by Chris Gallagher)

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