At today’s 2020 Annual General Meeting, our Chairman, Brian Schwartz, made the following address.
On behalf of the Board, I want to thank you for participating in today’s online Annual General Meeting. I hope you and your families remain safe and well.
We appreciate your understanding as we adapt the format to address the meeting restrictions and social distancing measures that are in place in response to the Coronavirus pandemic.
We intend to keep this meeting as succinct as possible given the revised format and the materially different operating environment.
I will make some opening remarks to provide context for today’s meeting.
Our Chief Executive Peter Allen – who is also the Chairman of the Shopping Centre Council of Australia, a position that is extremely relevant for our business at this point in time – will then provide an update on our current situation.
I would like to acknowledge Peter for his unwavering industry leadership especially over the past few weeks as a Small to Medium Sized Retailer Leasing Code of Conduct was negotiated and agreed between the National Retailers Association, the Australian Retailers Association, the Pharmacy Guild and the Shopping Centre Council. This was submitted to National Cabinet and yesterday the Australian Prime Minister the Hon Scott Morrison MP announced a Commercial Tenancy Code to be legislated by the states and territories. Peter will talk more about this in his address but suffice to say we and other industry operators are grateful for his initiative and steady and committed leadership.
There is no precedent for the situation we find ourselves in as we respond as an industry and as a company to the pandemic.
Following our 2019 full year results presentation on 18 February, our CEO and CFO embarked on investor meetings and separately I, with the Chair of our Human Resources Committee, undertook investor meetings as part of our typical preparation for today’s annual general meeting.
Those traditional meeting agendas and conversations quickly became less relevant as the focus was on the rapidly changing global situation and unprecedented health and economic response to the pandemic.
On 10 March, we informed the market we had paused our security buy-back program given the market volatility.
On 20 March, we informed the market that the Group’s operations performed in line with expectations during the early part of 2020. However, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and continued volatility in markets globally, we suspended the Outlook for 2020 that was previously announced.
Throughout the month of March, governments in Australia and New Zealand announced a range of health and economic measures to restrict further transmission of the virus.
Our business has quickly implemented what is required.
The Board and management have worked closely throughout this period to stay abreast of the rapidly evolving situation with daily communication and engagement and regular updates from the team.
Our approach as a Group has remained constant throughout – we have implemented a range of precautions to balance the health and wellbeing of our people, customers and retail partners with the important role of supporting business continuity and economic activity to the extent we possibly can.
On 1 April 2020, we were able to provide a liquidity update to the market. Despite the volatility and upheaval in markets, the financial strength of the Group was demonstrated with our ability to arrange additional facilities that increased the Group’s available liquidity position by $1.9 billion to $3.1 billion. We continue to engage with debt investors globally, with a view to entering into long term bonds at the appropriate time.
We will continue to focus our efforts on maintaining our business operations and continuity within government guidelines. This includes reviewing the level of all our operating costs including Board and senior management remuneration. An announcement will be made at the appropriate time when this review is complete.
On behalf of the Board, I would like to extend my thanks to Peter and the management team for their ongoing efforts to work through this exceptional and difficult period to ‘get to the other side’.
At this point and given the uncertainty regarding the economic impact of the pandemic, it would not be appropriate, or indeed possible, to provide any further comment on our earnings or distributions.
Board renewal and succession planning remains a central component of the Board’s role and the Group’s overall governance program.
The Board has continued to review the ongoing skills required for our Company and is committed to diversity of Board composition, including in gender, skills and experience and diversity of thought. In defining the Board’s requirements for new Directors, consideration is given to the skills, experience and background of existing Board members, the Group’s strategy and any identified new skills required to supplement the Board’s capabilities.
Aliza Knox is retiring from the Board today. Aliza has been a director since April 2015, not long after the inception of Scentre Group, and on behalf of the Board and management team I would like to express our sincere thanks for her contribution during such a pivotal time for our organisation. We wish Aliza well in her future endeavours and Aliza, I hope you will continue to provide us with your insights wherever you may be around the globe.
Today we have Andrew Harmos standing for re-election and Mike Wilkins standing for election both with the full support of the Board.
With those few words, I would now like to introduce our CEO Peter Allen to deliver his address.