Is now the right time to buy Scentre Group Ltd?

Even with the uncertainty caused by Brexit, the RBA still decided to keep interest rates on hold at 1.75% this week. Although not a major surprise, some investors feel the RBA may seek to pre-empt such problems and give the Aussie economy a boost with a rate cut at its August meeting.

One company that may benefit from more rate cuts is Westfield shopping-centre operator Scentre Group Ltd (ASX: SCG). Investor sentiment towards the company has been strong in 2016. Evidence of this can be seen in Scentre Group’s share price rise of 19% year-to-date and I think a key reason for that is the relative stability which the company offers.

Notably, Scentre Group offers a high-quality shopping experience and this enables it to generate high occupancy levels. As at the end of the previous financial year, Scentre Group’s portfolio was 99.5% leased and it offers an excellent track record of growth in average rents. It also has had significant success in improving the sales productivity of retailers.

During what is undoubtedly an uncertain period for the ASX and the wider economy following Brexit, this strong track record of stable performance could lead to further share price gains as investors seek out defensive stocks.

This offer of stability is in direct contrast to fellow retail-focused company Woolworths Limited  (ASX: WOW), which is undergoing a challenging period due to the impact of discount retailers. Its shares could rise significantly due to their low valuation (they trade on a P/S ratio of only 0.4), but there remain question marks surrounding whether Woolworths can successfully implement its turnaround plans.

Likewise, diversified retailer Wesfarmers Ltd (ASX: WES) may have a conglomerate structure and be less reliant upon the outlook for consumer spending than many of its retail peers. However, its shares trade on a P/B ratio of 1.8 versus 1.5 for Scentre Group, which marks Scentre out as the better value option. In fact, Scentre Group’s yield of 4.2% also indicates that it offers good value for money and due to dividends being forecast to rise by 3.3% next year, it remains a relatively appealing income stock for long-term investors.

I’m also upbeat about Scentre Group’s outlook due to its strategy. Its development strategy includes the commencement of $830 million in developments in 2015, with notable projects being Chatswood, Hurstville and Warringah Mall.

Further, Scentre Group has a development pipeline in excess of $3 billion, which in my view indicates that its long term future could be bright given its track record of high occupancy rates and rising average rents.

Additionally, Scentre Group is successful at keeping consumers engaged and differentiating itself from other shopping experiences. For example, its digital strategy improves the shopping experience and this helps to build customer loyalty and makes its locations more in-demand among retailers. As such, the installation of 1,200 custom designed digital smart screens and Wi-Fi in its centres should help to boost profitability over the medium term.

During that period, interest rate falls are realistic and this would be good for Scentre Group. However, even if they don’t happen, its stable performance, appealing valuation, income prospects, development pipeline and strategy mark it out as a sound buy right now.

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Motley Fool contributor Robert Stephens has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool Australia has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. This article contains general investment advice only (under AFSL 400691). Authorised by Bruce Jackson.

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