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Airport shareholders give clearance

Published: 8:48AM Friday March 14, 2008 Source: ONE News/Newstalk ZB

Shareholders have finally given their clearance for a 40% takeover of Auckland Airport, but now it is up to the government to decide if they will allow the sale to a Canadian consortium.

Eighty percent of shareholders voted with 62.5% accepting the offer of $3.60 a share.  Just under 58% approved of overall deal.

An Auckland Airport Shareholder, Marcus Graham says that what ever way the decision goes it will be a good thing for his investment as he's in it for the long term.

The controversial takeover has been months in the making and the chairman of the airport company's board now wants a speedy resolution as the deal is being scrutinised by the overseas investment office and then the government.

Land Information Minister David Parker and Associate Finance Minister Clayton Cosgrove will have the final approval after they were given extra power over foreign purchases of strategic assets just last week.

A spokeswoman for Parker says the ministers are not committing to any timeframe for when they will make a decision.

Investment analyst Simon Botherway says the CPP buy in cannot be rejected on business or commercial grounds. He says it is unfortunate that the next step is political rather than rational, and insists this is not a case of foreigners getting their hands on New Zealand's strategic assets for bargain basement prices.

Botherway says the Canadians are credible and responsible investors, and he doubts there will be any change in direction at the airport.

Auckland Airport chairman Tony Frankham said the transaction requires final approval from the Overseas Investment Office by April 11 in order to become unconditional.

"Auckland Airport hopes that, in the interests of certainty and an informed market, the government ministers concerned will announce their decision well before this deadline," he says.

Frankham says the board remains focused on working in the long term interests of the airport company and its shareholders.

On Wednesday night Auckland City Council voted unanimously not to sell its 13% stake in the asset because they did not think it was in their ratepayers' best interests.

Business analyst Brian Gaynor said on Thursday if the government steps in to kill the deal Kiwis can expect another battle from the Canadians because they have poured too much money and time into the acquisition to give up.

The government has already signalled its disapproval of foreign ownership but, in an effort to turn that around, the Canadians have offered to slash their voting rights by about 15%.

"Reducing our voting requirement to 24.9% fits within the spirit of the changes to the legislation," says Canadian Pension Plan spokesman Graeme Bevans.

The Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB) says its partial offer for 39.2% of the fully paid ordinary shares in the airport has met the required levels of approvals and acceptances.

Bevans says he is delighted shareholders have shown their support.

"It has always been our objective to hold a minority stake in Auckland Airport and we have structured our offer to reflect this. It is our desire to be a cornerstone, long-term minority investor of Auckland International Airport and our investment will assist New Zealanders in maintaining control of this important strategic asset," says Bevans.

"We are confident that we will be able to meet the Overseas Investment criteria."