Archive for February, 2019

ARL Commission chairman John Grant says NRL grand final likely to go on the road after 2019

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Sydney’s iron grip on the NRL grand final may be prised open after 2019, according to ARL Commission chairman John Grant, with the season showpiece likely to go on the road once every three years once the deal with the NSW government expires.

The move opens up the possibility of a grand final at Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium, which Grant also said stood to play host to a second team in the region to take on the might of the market-dominating Broncos if the game adds a 17th side in 2018.

In a revealing press conference after announcing new NRL offices in the Queensland capital, Grant said the Sydney monopoly on the traditional grand final could come to an end if rival governments came to the party with offers to host the game.

It is a highly topical issue given the prospect of two Queensland teams in the grand final as the Broncos prepare to host the Roosters and the Cowboys travel to Melbourne, all playing for a spot in next weekend’s finale.

NSW premier Mike Baird recently announced a $1 billion injection into Sydney stadia development, which NRL chief executive Dave Smith said would ensure it remained at the head of the queue for marquee matches.

But Grant was nudging Queensland to put its chips on the table, saying any upgrades to Suncorp Stadium would provide food for thought as the NRL laid out its future grand final plans.

“The NSW government has made commitments around stadia in Sydney and it will be reliant on having headline content,” Grant said.

“Similarly, there are discussions now about upgrading what is still the best special purpose rugby league stadium in Australia (Suncorp Stadium), if not the world.

“We will make sure we are responsive to the governments that are investing. We have to keep our options open but there are commitments being made.

“We use the State of Origin on a three-year cycle to launch rugby league and confirm league’s position elsewhere in the Australian community. We will do the same with grand finals and other big events.”

The Queensland government has been reluctant to add Wi-Fi and new screens to Suncorp Stadium, which many feel could start to be left behind as other cities modernise and expand their venues.

It can technically be expanded from its 52,500-seat capacity but that doesn’t appear to be on the radar. In any case, simply adding seats doesn’t always increase financial gains, with clever pricing structures one way of leveraging competitive returns.

Still, the stadium remains the envy of many. It is set in a prime inner-city position, has a world-class atmosphere, a long history and is surrounded by bars and restaurants that amplify the game-day experience.

“Capacity is one [thing] and what we create in Sydney for the grand final at ANZ Stadium is an event,” Grant said. “What we create at Suncorp is an opportunity to see rugby league played at its highest level.

“It’s about configurations but we’ve got a 52,000 capacity here … that is a very good crowd, you know what it is like in State of Origin. To get that intensity in this stadium with everyone being able to see what is happening on the field, I think that is a big plus.”

Grant also gave the strongest hint yet that the south-east region of Queensland was leading around the home turn in the race for the next NRL expansion slot. A number of bids are running in Brisbane, as well as in the greater west at Ipswich, a noted league heartland.

“I think south-east Queensland,” Grant said. “Queensland has multiple centres of high density and we have to make sure our NRL and Queensland Cup teams are appealing to those communities.”

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Float call for Van Diemen’s Land

VETERAN stockbroker Hugh Robertson of Wilson HTM has called for a public float of one of the nation’s oldest and largest dairy companies.
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Mr Wilson is a minority shareholder in the Van Diemen’s Land Company (VDL) – established in Tasmania under an 1825 Royal Charter granted by King George.

VDL owns 25 dairy farms – including the historic Woolnorth property – which houses the Roaring 40’s wind farm. It also has a heifer rearing operation. It has about 26,000 dairy cows on 19,000 hectares, making it the nation’s single largest milk supplier.

VDL for the past several years has failed to attract a needed capital injection. Several interested parties have looked – including The Chinse Investment Corporation.

Mr Robertson, who invested in VDL 20 years ago, approached VDL recently. “I’ve approached them to do an IPO. I just hope it doesn’t get sold as a block. I hope the New Zealanders consider an IPO through us [WilsonHTM], or someone else,” he said.

VDL’s indirect majority shareholder at 98.4 per cent is the New Plymouth District Council, managed through Taranaki Investment Management. VDL is controlled by parent company Tasman Farms.

“My view has always [been] that it’s a company that needs external capital, and what’s happened historically is the majority shareholding has been whipped around,” Mr Robertson said.

“This is probably a company that should be in the public domain. It’s a gargantuan dairy farm that has lots of potential. The thing to do would [be to] list it and take advantage of capital markets, and get money to develop it properly. It would be a bloody shame if it were sold to the Chinese. It’s an interesting asset and a hidden value that is the brand VDL.”

VDL, however, is a current takeover target by the newly formed shell entity, Tasmanian Land Company: a wholly owned subsidiary of BDO Agricultural Services, set up by Melbourne accounting firm BDO Australia.

TLC has offered $2 a share, a 45 per cent premium to the VDL net tangible assets as at 31 May 2014, of $1.375 per share. The NPDC is taking scrip in TLC, while many smaller shareholders are taking cash. Parties involved said it’s purely about shaking out smaller shareholders and a restructure of the highly complex company, which has been a hurdle in securing an investor.

VDL deputy chair Miles Hampton is recommending the offer, although there has not been any independent valuation. “A number of possible investors have been turned off by the complexity of the company and wanted to have clarity,” he said. “It’s well-known VDL is looking to raise capital to fund an expansion and we are advised that re-arranging the corporate structure this way will increase the chances of raising capital. We are still looking to raise $120 million.”

VDL will still operate under the Royal Charter but its new parent company will be Australian, and Australian corporate law will apply, he added.

Mr Hampton confirmed BDO is not acting for any other bidder and the only shareholders in TLC are those shareholders who take scrip.

Taranaki Investment chief executive Michael Trousselot, who is also on the board of VDL, said the group remains in talks with possible partners.

“We will move [to] 100 per cent [ownership] eventually. We have got CA agreements now, and we are in discussions with them now.” Mr Trousselot declined to talk about takeover speculation or whether VDL would suit the public market, but later said an IPO may be a future consideration.

A source said former VSL chief executive Mike Guerin, who left last March amid disagreement with the board, has been approached by several possible VDL suitors to be CEO if they were successful in a takeover.

According to recent filings, VDL had record milk production of 6.72 million kilograms of milk solids and a bounce back in livestock valuations in 2014. The 2013 year was difficult when the value of livestock plummeted and the group borrowed $1.7 million from Fonterra Australia. VDL parent company Tasman Farms has a $64 million revolving credit facility with Rabobank. Its next review date is November 30.

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Cows v sugar in WA grazing lease talks

CPC chief executive Troy Setter confirmed that discussions were taking place with Shanghai Zhongfu over a 9600-hectare grazing lease on the Ord River.CHINESE real estate giant Shanghai Zhongfu is in discussions with one of Australia’s largest cattle producers Consolidated Pastoral Company (CPC) to take over a major leasehold in the Ord River area, intending to expand cane production.
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All pastoral leases in Western Australia are due to expire in June this year creating a frenzy of new deals and renewals.

In 2012, Shanghai Zhongfu, trading as Kimberley Agricultural Investments, was controversially awarded a prized 50-year development lease in the east Kimberley on the Ord scheme’s second-stage expansion.

The company, which employed former prime minister Bob Hawke as its Australian lobbyist, is developing 15,200 hectares of the Ord West Bank into canefields and wants to build a sugar mill near Kununurra. It needs more land and canefields to make the mill viable.

CPC chief executive Troy Setter confirmed that discussions were taking place with Shanghai Zhongfu over a 9600-hectare grazing lease on the Ord River called Mantinea Plain.

“We have had discussions with various operators about developing northern [Western] Australia including the Ord,” Mr Setter said.

“We have not done a deal yet with [Kimberley Agricultural Investments] but they are our neighbours and we are always in discussions with them.”

The Western Australian government is tendering out the grazing lease of Mantinea Plain for major development. Consolidated Pastoral will be wanting to a deal with the winner of the tender to maintain its cattle herd on that property.

Mr Setter denied that CPC and Shanghai Zhongfu were working on a more substantial deal including the sale of the cattle company’s freehold property Carlton Hill or other parts of the business.

Barclays Capital is advising London-based private equity group Terra Firma on its ownership of the CPC business and certain approaches that have been made to buy it.

Barclays has previously advised on multiple sugar-related business transactions in Australia including Mitr Phol’s Maryborough Sugar Factory purchase. Since confirming that advisers had been appointed, Consolidated Pastoral contracted to buy the much-heralded Bunda Station of the Victoria River District, Northern Territory for about $15 million.

The 178,800-hectare station owned by the Underwood family sits adjacent to CPC’s Kirkimbie Station on the Western Australia border. That sale is yet to settle.

The $700 million Consolidated Pastoral, which in March had about $418 million in equity, controls 19 properties across Australia’s top end, covering more than 5.6 million hectares.

The company’s leasehold properties have slipped in value from $311 million to $295 million, according to accounts filed with the corporate regulator.

Freehold land value was unchanged at $93 million.

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Valuation boost for Linkletters estate

THE value of the 8900-hectare Linkletters estate in Esperance in the Western Australian wheatbelt, the sole remaining rural asset of the ASX-listed Agricultural Land Trust, has been boosted by 37 per cent following an independent valuation.
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The January valuation lifted the book value of the estate by $4.75 million to $17.65 million.

Justin Epstein, director of fund manager One Investment Group, which manages the trust on behalf of its biggest shareholder, the powerful West Australian landholder Allen Caratti, was unavailable for comment – the agricultural trust’s accounts are being audited ahead of the publication of December half-year results.

Last August Mr Epstein told The Australian Financial Review that a rehabilitation of the estate over about 18 months – by removing the blue gum plantations and returning the property to cropping and grazing use – would see its value increase from $12.9 million (its June 2014 book value) to between $28.5 million and $29 million.

The Agricultural Land Trust, once controlled by rural group Elders, was one of the major players in the forestry-managed investment schemes before the dramatic collapse of operators such as Great Southern and Timbercorp saw forestry values plummeting. The trust has a $10 million syndicated loan facility maturing in 2016 to pay for the remediation of Linkletters.

“Our priorities are to remediate Linkletters, lease it out and also to streamline the operations of the trust,” Mr Epstein said six months ago.

“We think Linkletters is an amazing property. No listed agricultural trust has this level of opportunity, but it requires a little bit of vision,” he said.

A sale of Linkletters has not been ruled out either but Mr Caratti, who owns 61 per cent of the trust, would prefer to lease out the property. The January valuation uplift would suggest Linkletters was benefiting from the first stages of this rehabilitation as well as from its prime location in Esperance.

“In cropping, Esperance is considered a premium region,” said one agribusiness valuer.

A February report by valuers Herron Todd White noted increasing confidence in the WA wheatbelt.

“The majority of wheatbelt farmers have now finished their harvest with many achieving above average results and higher than expected yields. This has seen confidence increase and activity in the property market increase with two good years now under their belts,” said Herron Todd White.

Linkletters is named after US television host Art Linkletter, who developed the estate in the 1950s. It was acquired by the Agricultural Land Trust nine years ago and planted with blue gums, before the sector slumped.

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Low activity forecast in ERF auctions

THE government’s direct action scheme is likely to see little interest from new carbon emission reduction projects in its first few rounds of auctions, which could limit the total amount of carbon savings gained in the early stages of the scheme’s operation.
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The Clean Energy Regulator is due to conduct the first auction for projects bidding for money from the ­$2.55 billion Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF) in early 2015, with no firm date yet announced.

The first auction may be conducted without the publication of a ­”benchmark” price, below which bids will need to be priced in order ­to succeed.

Elisa de Wit, partner and head of ­climate change at law firm Norton Rose Fulbright, who has been advising ­clients interested in ­participating in the Fund, said she did not expect much activity from projects that were not already part of the ­pre-existing Carbon Farming Initiative.

“Because there is still a large amount of uncertainty about what that priority is going to be, in the first auction, I think a lot of people are just going to wait and see,” Ms de Wit said.

Many of the approved methodologies that are eligible for money from the ERF depend on so-called aggregation – where a number of small projects are gathered together by an external party in a ­single bid.

The National Farmers’ Federation president Brent Finlay said many of his members were wary of signing up to the aggregation schemes.

“There are lots of costs involved and financial risks for farmers.

“Those risks include the problem of encountering unscrupulous ­aggregators, the snake oil salesmen. “Under the rules of the ERF, farmers must partner with an aggregator.”

Many of the technologies the ­government is hoping the agriculture sector will employ, including so-called “soil carbon” where emissions are sequestered in the ground, are not yet ready for deployment, Mr Finlay said.

“They’re still in an embryonic phase of research and development.

“If the government is serious about ensuring that the ERF will provide opportunities for agriculture, we need ongoing funding for the research and development of cost-effective ­methods,” Mr Finlay said.

A 2014 Climate Change Authority analysis of the Carbon Farming ­Initiative, which is the predecessor of the Emissions Reduction Fund, found the most common methodology was landfill and waste treatment projects, followed by forestry.

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