Owners of US malls plead for aid amid coronavirus shutdown

The parking lot at The Village at Corte Madera shopping mall is nearly empty, on March 17, 2020 in Corte Madera, California. PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK (REUTERS) - A trade group representing mall owners is urging the Trump administration to provide relief to retailers, restaurants and landlords as the coronavirus pandemic shuts down commerce around the US.

The US government should guarantee or pay for business-interruption coverage, the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC) said on Tuesday (March 18) in a letter to President Donald Trump, Vice-President Mike Pence and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

Store closures "are placing an insurmountable strain on our members, and we believe federal government action is urgently needed", the group said in its letter.

The administration is discussing a plan that could amount to as much as US$1.2 trillion in spending - including direct payments of US$1,000 or more to Americans within two weeks - to blunt some of the economic impact of the widening coronavirus outbreak.

"Without ensuring the stability of our tenant base, the repayment of up to US$1 trillion of secured and unsecured debt underlying the shopping center industry will be at risk," ICSC chief executive Tom McGee wrote in the letter. "This will jeopardise the entire industry and cause long-term damage to financial markets."

The industry "will require further federal support associated with outstanding debt obligations as well as tax and regulatory relief", he wrote.

US mall operators have seen their stocks nosedive more than the S&P 500 Index. In the past month, companies including Simon Property Group and Macerich have fallen close to 60 per cent or more.

Retail-focused real estate isn't the only industry lobbying for federal assistance. Executives from the hotel, lodging and gaming industry met Mr Trump on Tuesday and are seeking US$250 billion (S$356.9 billion) from the US government to help cope with what is essentially a travel shutdown.

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