A decade ago, just about any developer or listed property fund that owned a mall or built a new one, no matter how big or small, was virtually assured of making a packet. Back then, retail was still the most sought-after investment subsector of the SA real estate market and shopping centres comfortably outperformed offices, warehouses and factories on the total return front. But times have changed. These days most SA mall owners are grappling with how to convince cash-strapped consumers to continue to visit their centres — and spend more when they do — as declining sales and a rising number of empty stores start to erode profits. Admittedly, SA malls haven’t been hit by the same level of store culling as their US and UK counterparts. Bloomberg reports that three major US apparel brands — Gap, Victoria’s Secret and JCPenney — have announced the closure of about 300 stores. That is in addition to a number of US retailers such as Sears, Payless Inc, Things Remembered and Brookstone Inc...

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