Whilst James Packer has seemingly turned his back on the old media assets that his father and grandfather so loved, the story of the Roberts family and Multiplex is actually a far more dramatic example of what can happen when the founder of an empire dies.
John Roberts founded construction giant Multiplex in Perth way back in 1962, and after 42 years as a private company, the business was floated at $4.05 a share in December 2004. The stock then soared to a high of $6.50 before the Wembley disaster set in and sent it tumbling to a low of almost $2.50 by the middle of 2005.
John Roberts died one year ago, and now his three children – the wife was divorced in the 1990s in a move which caused ANZ to call in Arthur Andersen to check if this would threaten the viability of the business – have decided to sell up and become the first Australian family to land more than $1 billion in cash from a single deal.
John Roberts would probably be turning in his grave after yesterday’s $5.05-a-share deal to sell out to Canadian fund manager Brookfield Asset Management, but why shouldn’t the children cash in from the current global-investment boom?
It’s unprecedented for an Australian billionaire family to make such a sudden and dramatic departure from a longstanding business, but fetching more than $1 billion for the 26% stake is a nice outcome. The closest anyone else has got to pocketing $1 billion in cash was when Kerry Packer’s private company sold Channel Nine in Melbourne and Sydney for $1.05 billion. However, only $800 million of this was cash.
The Lowys pocketed $468 million when they sold a 13% stake in Westfield Holdings way back in August 1998, but now they are putting $282 million of this money back in by supporting yesterday’s whopping $3 billion 2 for 23 Westfield rights issue at $19.50 a share.
Solly Lew walked away with $700 million when he quit his personal stake in Coles Myer back in February 1999, but this was heavily geared. Kerr Neilson easily could have landed $1 billion in cash from the Platinum float, but instead he only chose to sell about $700 million worth of cash and, unlike the Roberts family, there will be a $100 million-plus capital gains tax bill on this.
So, there you have it. For the first time, an Australian family will really receive a single cheque for more than $1 billion in cash. What a lovely problem to have.
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