Australia’s debt addiction really is coming home to roost when you look at the trophy assets up for sale across the country. And rather than conservative Australian super funds buying up assets on the cheap, it is overwhelmingly foreign investors who are swooping.
Valad Property Group joined the party yesterday offloading 40% of its prestigious Goldfields House property at Sydney’s Circular Quay to an unnamed foreign investor, rumoured to be a cashed up Middle Eastern sovereign fund flush with oil money.
In terms of prestigious Sydney office towers, Allco is struggling to sell 50% of Sydney’s giant World Square development and its affiliate Record Realty is liquidating its entire portfolio to pay down debt, including the ASX headquarter in Bond St. When the home of the Stock Exchange is on the block, things must be bad.
But the great 2008 fire sale includes far more than just Sydney office towers.
Control of Australia’s second biggest hotel chain, Stella, fell into the hands of private equity firm CVC after MFS ran into trouble and the second biggest shopping centre empire is also available if anyone fancies a crack at Centro.
Last week it was the biggest owner of tollroads in Sydney, Transurban, which confessed to a debt problem and accepted a $658 million injection from Canada’s sovereign wealth fund.
And with shares in Macquarie Airports down another 5% to a four year low today, maybe chairman Max Moore-Wilton should prove the naysers wrong and flog Sydney Airport for “considerably more” than its $11 billion book value, as he claimed was possible at the recent AGM.
The resources sector is a different story with lower debt and the biggest commodity boom in decades. However, foreign investment is pouring in at a remarkable rate.
Britain’s BG Group has today gone hostile against Origin, offering $15.50 a share in cash or $13.8 billion for the equity.
This follows the Malaysian Government ploughing heavily into the Queensland coal-seam methane gas story through Santos and Shell committing more than $700 million to Arrow Energy.
McCarthur Coal founder Ken Talbot stepped down from the board yesterday and the stock remains in a trading halt as Indian giant Arcelor Mittal, South Korea’s Posco, the Chinese Government through CITIC and potentially other parties go through what is effectively a private auction for his 19.76% stake.
The most bizarre foreign investment development so far was surely the Takeover Panel’s decision yesterday to ban US hedge fund Harbinger from voting a 5% stake in iron-ore wannabe Midwest at the forthcoming EGM on the merger with neighbouring Murchison Metals.
So, a Chinese Government company Sinosteel can block the Midwest-Murchison merger merely because Wayne Swan hasn’t formally ticked off on Harbinger’s investment.
Meanwhile, it was good to see Lion Selection shareholders vote down the sale of its stake in Indophil Resources to Xstrata yesterday. The Swiss burgled MIM five years ago and were trying to mop up 100% of the huge Tampakan copper-gold deposit in the Philippines, an old MIM asset, on the cheap.
*Go here for a full account of the bizarre Lion Selection EGM yesterday.