Speaking after the group’s annual meeting, Mr Lowy confirmed there was evidence of more tenants in arrears, and the number of stores closing down due to poor sales in Westfield’s shopping centres is on the rise but said this was not posing a threat to future earnings, nor causing any concern at the centres.

"As we said at the quarterly update a couple of weeks ago, there has been a slight increase in arrears amongst tenants, more so in the United States, but also in Australia," Mr Lowy said.

"We have got a slowdown in the US, United Kingdom and Australia, so these events are expected. But we are well positioned to ride out these conditions.

"Have we seen an increase in distressed retailers? Yes, slightly at the margin, although it’s not anything that is alarming. Cash, when you have a situation (an economic downturn), becomes a bit tighter, and we are cognisant of that."

He said with 23,000 tenants worldwide, there was enough diversity to weather any further weakening in consumer spending. He said there was not any specific sector that was showing weakness.

He confirmed the world’s largest shopping centre owner by value would be paying an annual distribution of 106.5 per security, unchanged from the 2007 year.

He also swept aside concerns about the appointment as a director of John McFarlane, the former chief executive of ANZ, saying Westfield’s board had "chased him the minute we heard he was leaving the bank".

Mr Lowy said in the year ending December 31, 2007, there was a rise in the gross value of assets under management from $60.7 billion to $63.2 billion.