Mall owner Simon Property says sales at its centers returned to pre-pandemic levels in June

A Simon Property Group sign in The Westchester mall in White Plains, New York.

Scott Mlyn | CNBC

Simon Property Group saw sales at its shopping malls and outlet centers bounce back to pre-pandemic levels in its latest fiscal quarter, as Americans shopped for clothes, shoes and other items.

Simon Property Chief Executive David Simon told analysts Monday that retail sales at its properties in June were comparable to June 2019 levels, and up 80% from a year earlier. Parts of the United States saw sales higher than 2019 levels, he added.

The biggest U.S. mall owner is hoping the improving trends coax businesses to sign new leases. The company has been looking to fill spaces that were vacated by brands that either went bankrupt or had to cull stores.

For the three-month period ended June 30, Simon Property’s occupancy rate was 91.8%, down from 92.9% a year ago, and from 94.4% two years earlier.

“We continue to see demand for space across our portfolio, from healthy local, regional and national tenants, entrepreneurs, restaurateurs and mixed-use demand … it’s increasing day by day,” David Simon said.

“We still have a hole to dig out of because of the bankruptcies that we had to confront during the pandemic,” he added. “But I’m very pleased with the activity.”

Simon shares were up nearly 3% in extended trading. The stock has risen more than 48% year to date. Simon Property Group has a market capitalization of $41.5 billion.

Retail industry watchers are expecting a strong back-to-school season, as children look forward to returning to classrooms and adults head back to the office. In recent days, retailers from Kohl’s to Home Depot have been reimposing mask mandates for workers, hoping to contain a recent rise in Covid-19 cases. A highly contagious delta variant has been spreading, largely among unvaccinated Americans.

When asked about the delta variant, David Simon said the company will not be mandating vaccines for shoppers and tenants, but it will continue to encourage them.

“We have not seen in an enclosed mall an uptick in Covid cases,” he said. “We need to mask up. We’re going to mask up. And I think the consumer is … moving forward in that environment right now.”

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