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Mall giant PREIT threatened with stock exchange delisting over sub-$1 trading price

The company, which owns Fashion District Philadelphia and the Cherry Hill Mall, has traded for as little as $0.51 this month.

Shoppers in the Cherry Hill Mall this summer.
Shoppers in the Cherry Hill Mall this summer.Read moreMONICA HERNDON / Staff Photographer

PREIT has been given six months to get its trading price above $1 or be booted from the New York Stock Exchange, as the owner of Fashion District Philadelphia and other malls joins other big retail landlords facing the threat of delisting as they struggle to recover from the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.

Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust, as the company is formally known, said Thursday that it received a notice from NYSE last week indicating that it had breached an exchange requirement that its stock close at an average price of $1 per share over 30 consecutive days.

PREIT has traded for as little as $0.51 this month. It closed at $0.56 on Thursday.

“The effects of COVID-19 continue to ripple across the Greater Philadelphia region, and perhaps most notably in the commercial and retail sectors,” company spokesperson Heather Crowell said. “We are taking all necessary steps to regain compliance, without disruption to our business operations.”

Several mall staples have filed for Chapter 11 protection during the pandemic, including J. Crew, Neiman Marcus, Brooks Brothers, and Lucky Brand, rocking the mall owners that lease to them.

The delisting notice sends a foreboding message about PREIT’s future, resonant of the warning that retailer JCPenney received last year before its delisting and subsequent bankruptcy in May, said Nick Shields, an analyst with investment-research firm Third Bridge.

Companies delisted from major public exchanges such as NYSE can have trouble raising equity since many investors — including some big, institutional ones — don’t buy unlisted shares.

Of the roughly 2,200 companies listed on NYSE, about 30 have been deemed noncompliant with exchange regulations due to their low trading prices and face possible delisting, according to an analysis of NYSE data.

Among them are other retail real estate groups such as CBL & Associates and Washington Prime Group, as well as Cedar Realty Trust, owner of the Riverview Plaza shopping center on South Columbus Boulevard and other Philadelphia strip malls.

“It signals that unless something drastically changes, they’re probably headed for restructuring or bankruptcy,” Shields said of PREIT.

Stock exchange rules require the company maintain within a six-month “cure period” an average share price of at least $1 over 30 days.

Options under consideration to boost its stock price may include executing a corporate action known as a reverse-stock split, PREIT said.

In such an action, companies rework their existing stock so there are fewer shares outstanding, making each individual share worth more without changing their collective overall value.

Shields likened such a move to “a Band-Aid.”

“It doesn’t fix any structural problems in the business,” he said.

PREIT is the biggest mall owner in Philadelphia and its surrounding counties, with 4.7 million square feet of space under management in the region, according to market tracker CoStar Group.

Its 21 malls in nine states include the Fashion District in Center City, formerly the Gallery at Market East; Willow Grove Park and the Plymouth Meeting Mall in Montgomery County; and the Cherry Hill Mall, Moorestown Mall, and Cumberland Mall in South Jersey.

Even before all its properties were ordered closed in March to help stem the coronavirus, PREIT and other retail landlords had been in a punishing, years-long struggle to keep their properties leased, as shoppers increasingly migrate from shopping malls to e-commerce sites.

Its malls began reopening in mid-May, with the last of its properties, the Fashion District, resuming operations in July. Only about 4% of tenants on its pre-pandemic rent rolls had failed to reopen as of Thursday, it said in a separate statement from its release on the NYSE warning.

“PREIT already wasn’t in the best financial condition before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and once it did, many of its retail tenants were either unable or unwilling to pay rent,” said Matt Frankel of Millionacres LLC, a real estate-focused division of finance website Motley Fool. “PREIT desperately needs to raise capital to survive, and it’s becoming less and less likely that is going to happen.”

Last month, the company signed an agreement for a $30 million bridge loan to smooth over the impacts of rent deferrals and temporary reductions extended to cash-strapped tenants while it works to negotiate a longer-term arrangement with its lenders.

PREIT said Thursday that it had secured a 30-day extension for that loan’s repayment, which had originally been set for Sept. 30. It also negotiated the ability to borrow up to an additional $25 million, to be accessed as needed, it said.

“In Greater Philadelphia, and at our other properties around the country, we remain focused on our efforts to diversify our portfolio and improve our balance sheet,” Crowell said. “We will continue our efforts to manage costs, increase liquidity, and preserve financial flexibility.”