Simon Property Group, America's biggest shopping mall owner, is frustrated with news reports that malls are struggling.
"It's confounding to me," Chief Executive Officer David Simon said at an investor forum for the National Association of Real Estate Investment Trusts on Wednesday. "The New York-centric media need to be negative on the mall industry. I mean, I don't know if it's like a drug they take — they just feel like they have to shit all over the mall every time I listen to the TV or read the newspaper. But I would just encourage investors to look at our numbers and the cash flow growth that we have," he said.
Regrettably, the Goldman Sachs analyst interviewing Simon followed the "shit" comment up with a question about what the CEO says to "defecators" — those who poop — though he probably meant defectors or detractors. (Simon joked that he liked the word, as the audience laughed.)
Simon, whose company owns or has an interest in more than 300 United States properties, was correct in that there has been a preponderance of articles describing the decline of the mall (though it's unlikely the reporters were induced by drugs to write such stories.) In March, the New Yorker wrote a story titled "Are Malls Over?" CBS went with the headline "A dying breed: The American shopping mall." In January, Business Insider wrote "America's Shopping Malls Are Dying a Slow, Ugly Death." And last month, the Wall Street Journal published an article called "Struggling Malls Suffer When Sears, Penney Leave."
But it's not a baseless plotline cooked up by New York's business media. Data shows that foot traffic at malls has, in fact, been on a steep decline, retailers are devoting more resources to their e-commerce operations, and significant anchor chains like J.C. Penney and Sears — not to mention once-hip teen retailers like American Eagle, Abercrombie, and Aeropostale — are having major problems. Indeed, as the New Yorker pointed out, there's even a website tracking shuttered malls called DeadMalls.com. And Simon itself just began a new rebranding campaign.
The CEO pointed out that internet sales of mall items are well below 10%, adding that much of that is displacing what has historically been catalog sales, anyway. He also said that Amazon and other online-only retailers are benefiting from unfair treatment as far as sales tax goes, which he anticipates will ultimately balance out. Simon, which brings in more than $5 billion in annual revenue, has brought in cash from operating activities of more than $2 billion for the last three years.
As long as Simon Property's real estate is appropriately located, the company can always make use of the space, he said.
"There will be department store angst with some," he said. "There'll be boxes we get back, boxes we'll redo, boxes we'll tailor down, boxes we'll put apartments on, boxes we'll split up into small shops, and even a few boxes we can't lease, maybe it could happen, but when you add it all up, we're truly convinced we'll be able to increase our cash flow, and no one has done that more consistently than we have."