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By Tanishaa Nadkar
(Reuters) - British shopping centre operator Hammerson Plc said on Monday it had won the backing of activist investor Elliot Advisors for its plans to sell more assets to cut debt and expand its board.
Shares in the owner of malls such as Birmingham's Bullring and London's Brent Cross fell about 3 percent, however, as investors focused on a fall in the company's net asset value and net rental income, hit by lower occupancy.
Shareholders have raised concerns about Hammerson's performance after it spurned a £5 billion takeover by rival Klepierre SA last year. It also pulled out of buying smaller rival Intu Properties Plc after concerns over higher exposure to Britain's struggling retail sector.
Since then, Hammerson has been selling assets and in January cancelled a share buyback to shore up its balance sheet. The company sold £570 million of assets in 2018, but the average disposal price was 7 percent below the assets' December 2017 book value.
Hammerson said on Monday it would look to dispose more than £500 million of assets in 2019, adding that it was in active discussions on deals with a total value of over £900 million.
The company also plans to appoint two more non-executive directors this year and establish a committee to oversee its divestments.
Elliott, which held a 5.3 percent stake in Hammerson as of July 5, has entered an agreement with the company and committed to voting in favour of resolutions recommended by Hammerson at the upcoming general meeting.
The U.S. hedge fund also agreed to maintain its voting interests and economic interests in the company below 10 percent and 15 percent, respectively. The agreement is expected to remain in force for a maximum of 12 months.
Hammerson, which cut its debt by £179 million to £3.4 billion by the end of December, is targeting debt of £3 billion for 2019 and if the disposal programme succeeds it would be below that level by the end of the year.
Net rental income fell 6.2 percent, while net asset value per share fell 4.9 percent for the year ended Dec. 31.
"2018 was a tough year particularly in the UK. Tenant failures, the structural shift in retail and a more considered consumer created a difficult operating environment, putting pressure on property values," Hammerson said.
The company also reported a loss attributable to equity shareholders, of £268.1 million, compared with a profit of £388.4 million in 2017, partly due to revaluation of the company's property portfolio and losses on disposals. On an adjusted basis, its profit fell 2.4 percent to £240.3 million.
(Reporting by Tanishaa Nadkar and Arathy S Nair in Bengaluru; Editing by Shounak Dasgupta and Susan Fenton)