EUROPE - Corio, the listed retail company that has APG and PGGM as major shareholders, will bring forward the planned sell-off of Dutch and French assets worth €670m to the first half of this year.

Chief executive Gerard Groener - despite a 6.6% renewal rate he claimed was a sign of the firm's resilience - told analysts the shopping centre owner/operator would complete "a larger part" of the planned disposals from its €7bn portfolio this year.

Corio originally intended to stagger the disposals over three years to 2015, but decided to pull the programme forward after the market turned last summer.

Dutch assets make up more than 50% of those to be divested.

The firm is in negotiations with three potential institutional buyers for the entire Dutch portfolio - mainly made up of smaller assets - but Groener said the firm had received expressions of interest in specific assets from retailers, private funds and even private individuals.

Corio expects the first formal offers in March, with completion expected by the end of the year.

The firm sold non-core assets worth €136m last year, generating a 4% profit.

"They've been picked up by the market pretty quickly," Groener said. "There's a large range of potential buyers for these projects."

The Netherlands accounts for the largest number of assets in the firm's portfolio (29%), followed by France (27%).

But it also has significant exposure to troubled euro-zone economies, with 27% of its portfolio in Italy, Spain and Portugal.

Although Groener said he "wouldn't dare" make predictions about economic growth in Europe over the next five years, he was less hesitant about forecasts for European retail, predicting it would fundamentally change as a result of demographics and technology.

"How we communicate with the customer and how we operate our centres will change fundamentally," he said.

"We need to change an ugly building into something interesting."
The firm's strategy for active management includes providing free WiFi in Dutch shopping centres, concert venues, cinemas and food courts.

"Changing centres into favourite meeting places isn't something that happens overnight, but we need to be friends with consumers," he said.

Corio's €2.5bn pipeline has faced recent difficulties, including delays in the opening of the food-court floor of a new Berlin shopping centre.

Although part of the centre will open according to schedule in April, the second floor is unlikely to open before the summer.

"We will only take over when we can speak of a flawless operation," Groener said.