The dissipation of Gunns’ forest estate continues.
Korda Mentha, Gunns’ Receivers in control of Gunns’ secured assets, don’t say much. It’s not a requirement except when they need a favour.
PPB Advisory, Gunns’ Liquidator overlooking the whole show reveal a little more because they’re charged with winding up Gunns’ MIS schemes and preventing Korda Mentha from grabbing the MIS trees for their clients. As a consequence they update growers with regular, and quite helpful explanations of the progress of the wind-up and how much is being received from asset sales and spent by lawyers accountants and consultants in the fee smorgasbord.
In April 2014 New Forests, or more correctly entities managed by New Forests acquired the following assets
· 176,000 hectares of Gunns’ freehold land in Tasmania
· port operations for the export of woodchips at Burnie and Tamar
· 3 woodchip mills
· tree nursery at Somerset
· tree breeding facilities at Ridgley
· forestry operations and other related assets
Total consideration was $330 million.
Growing on the freehold land were 96,000 hectares of plantation trees.
Of these 54,000 hectares belong to MIS growers, the rest to Gunns and associates.
There are 9 MIS schemes planted over a 9 year period. The weighted average age is about 8 years.
The amount of the total sale price that belongs to MIS growers is likely to be 12.6% of the total or $40.5 million after sale costs of $1 million, once the Supreme Court of Victoria gives the ok.
However there are more costs, another $12 million are expected, some plantation maintenance costs incurred since Gunns went belly up but mainly legal and accounting costs incurred byPPB on behalf of growers in their battle with KordaMentha who, to put it in a nutshell, have been asserting the trees now belong to the Gunns as landowners, or more accurately the punters and hedge funds who now own the debt secured by Gunns’ land.
The growers have had a hard time. They entrusted their money to Gunns Plantations who then lent it all to the parent company Gunns who blew it, whereupon the secured creditors said, in effect, we can no longer look after your trees, thanks for coming, stiff luck but the trees are now ours.
PPB Advisory has and will spend millions basically arguing this point with Korda Mentha who no doubt will incur similar costs. And both will be the first to be paid. The growers will even end up paying some maintenance costs twice. Once up front and again for costs during the insolvency period.
That’s the way the system works.
After all costs, growers may get to share $28 million.
That is before amounts owing to financiers who funded growers in the first instance.
Also the ATO will want a cut as the proceeds are taxable, the growers having already received the benefits of the tax deductibility of the initial upfront fees.
Gunns’ MIS growers with total trees covering 106,000 hectares will all get to share in the meagre spoils, not just those growers whose crops were sold to New Forests
On average the return will only be $264 per hectare. The earlier scheme growers will get more, the later ones less. A far cry from initial expectations. Initial outlays were about $7,000 per hectare. Expected returns were much more.
From New Forests viewpoint paying $41.5 million for 54,000 hectares of hardwood plantations implies only $765 per hectare on average for the trees.
If the average age is 8 years and say the annual growth rates 16 tonnes per hectare, the price paid by New Forests works out at only $6 per tonne.
They should make a double digit return at harvest time.
From 19 expressions of interest Korda Mentha only received two offers for Gunns’assets that warranted negotiations.
The much vaunted interest in Gunns’ assets was overblown, yet again.
Gunns’ MIS growers still own another 51,000 hectares of trees growing on other leased land.
· 14,000 hectares on Forestry Tasmania FT’s land
· 27,000 hectares on land belonging to various third parties.
· 10,000 hectares on land owned by two Australian Forestry Plantation Trusts, essentially Gunns’ entities but being wound up by a separate liquidator McGrathNicol.
The latter trees will be sold with the underlying land and proceeds split similar to the New Forests’ deal.
In the case of the other lots, rental arrears will almost equal the value of the trees so growers won’t be getting fancy prices from landlords. Probably nothing at all. The MISs are being wound up and the trees will pass to the landowners with or without consideration.
FT will have another 14,000 hectares to look after which Premier Hodgman and Minister Harriss are yet to concede may require funding.
It won’t be called deficit funding. Maybe disguised as a payment for another Community Service Obligation?
The Liquidators have given no sign they’re interested in delving too deeply into possible insolvent trading by Gunns. It’s pretty easy to argue there was a reasonable expectation the pulp mill could be built and all Gunns’ woes would end. After all there’s still some flat earthers who believe it can be built despite no interest and little resource.
The Liquidators haven’t exactly been forthcoming with reports to growers about the specific growth rates of their plantations. Given that yields of MISs generally appear to be between 25% and 50% below forecast it seems reasonably clear that growers were misled, especially the later who were never told about the lower than expected yields.
Lower yields combined with prices between 50% and 75% below forecast has meant proceeds would be lucky to be one eighth of what was promised even for a full term crop. Selling halfway through the rotation doesn’t improve the price. That’s why $6 a tonne was the going rate.
New Forests have established two sub-trusts presumably sub-trusts of the large cashed up Australia New Zealand Forest Fund No. 2 to hold the acquired assets, an investment sub-trust and an operations sub-trust, plus a management company Tasmanian Forest Management P/L to oversee both.
PPB Advisory have been reasonably expeditious in attending to Gunns’ insolvency, compared to FEA’s Liquidator BRIFerrier who are now half a lap behind after giving PPB well over two years start.
FEA’s Tasmanian MIS plantations still looking for a new owner total 16,000 hectares on FEA’s land and a further 8,500 hectares growing on leased land.
It wouldn’t surprise to see New Forest interested. They seem to have little difficulty in outbidding their rivals and there is little evidence they have overpaid for assets.
It’s been a shameful and extravagant hit to the public purse and to growers’ pockets, so hopefully New Forests make better use of their publicly subsidised investment with more acceptable and profitable value adding than that practised and proposed by the rogues who preceded them.