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UPDATE 2-Hammerson appoints CFO as England mall visitors return

* Names new CFO

* Malls in England reopened on April 12 (Adds analyst comments, shares, context)

April 20 (Reuters) - Hammerson on Tuesday named a new finance chief and said the number of visitors at its shopping malls in England in the past week had risen to around 80% of 2019 levels after restrictions were eased.

Malls, restaurants and pubs were allowed to reopen on April 12 in England after multiple lockdowns in the past year.

The owner of the Brent Cross shopping centre and the Bullring in Birmingham said footfall in the past week was at about 80% of levels seen in April 2019 as it looks to recover from lockdowns which slashed sales last year.

So far it had collected 40% of the second-quarter rents that are due at group level, Hammerson said.

In France and other regions where Hammerson operates, however, it said market conditions remained challenging as it still faces pandemic-related restrictions. Hammerson’s portfolio spans seven countries.

Its London-listed shares were down 3.4% by 0816 GMT.

The company named Himanshu Raja as its new chief financial officer (CFO) to support CEO Rita-Rose Gagné’s strategic review of the business.

Raja was most recently CFO at real estate agent Countrywide and previously held that post at private security firm G4S.

The COVID-19 pandemic has magnified problems for retailers battling against online rivals as lockdowns boost online spending.

Hammerson has been overhauling its business, raising equity, and selling some of its portfolio as it tries to fix its balance sheet. It reported a 1.7 billion pound loss in 2020.

Last week it said it was in talks to sell its retail parks portfolio to Canadian private equity firm Brookfield Asset Management.

Analysts said the company would need to make further disposals.

“Hammerson is still fighting against the tide,” Liberum analyst Tom Musson wrote in a note on Tuesday. “Without (further material disposals), another dilutive equity injection may be needed.” (Reporting by Yadarisa Shabong in Bengaluru; editing by Shounak Dasgupta and Jason Neely)

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