BREAKFAST DEALS: Gunning for control

Macquarie Group reckons it can get more out of Gunns' assets than its liquidator, while Arrow Energy reportedly talks mergers with Origin and Santos.

Macquarie Group is reportedly mounting a last minute charge for some of the managed investment schemes of the fallen timber company Gunns Limited. Arrow Energy could finally be moving towards a deal with fellow Queensland LNG players Santos or Origin Energy. Meanwhile, Coles could one day do a Woolworths with its new property joint venture, there's a potential property float somewhere on Melbourne's horizon and Leighton appears to have a floating construction deal in the United Arab Emirates.

Macquarie Group, Gunns Limited

Investment bank Macquarie Group is reportedly trying to secure control of nine managed investment schemes from collapsed timber company Gunns Limited, purportedly listed at $500 million.

The Australian reports that Macquarie has called a series of meetings with investors and growers on May 28 regarding 2002-08 schemes, where it will push for support to become overall manager.

The newspaper says Gunns liquidator PPB Advisory will today try to convince the Victorian Supreme Court to allow a change in the Gunns constitution that would allow it to start offloading the company's plantations.

The Macquarie news effectively pits the investment bank against the liquidator, which is not a particularly unusual event. They're basically saying they can extract more value from the concerned assets than PPB.

The courts often have a big role to play.

Arrow Energy, Royal Dutch Shell, PetroChina, Santos, Origin Energy

The long-awaited consolidation of Queensland's LNG producers could finally be taking place.

The Australian Financial Review reports that Arrow Energy, jointly held between Royal Dutch Shell and PetroChina, has been discussing options.

Many have expected for some time that Arrow would eventually decide against its $20 billion plant project on Curtis Island and join forces with either Santos or Origin Energy.

The newspaper reports that Origin Energy boss Grant King and Santos chief executive David Knox both referred to talks with Arrow at a conference in Sydney yesterday.

“I am sure they are talking to everybody and sensibly they would,” King said.

At the same conference, King said Origin has no immediate plans to sell down its stake in the Australia Pacific LNG Project.

Wesfarmers, ISPT, Woolworths

Wesfarmers could be on a path to floating some of its Coles Group property holdings with a joint venture partner, similar to how rival Woolworths did with SCA Property.

Wesfarmers has raised $532 million by selling majority ownership in 19 shopping centres into a joint venture with superannuation giant ISPT.

The retailer will hold on to a 25 per cent stake in each centre, the minimum required to hang on to the management rights, which protects an additional revenue stream and control of the real estate assets that it operates in.

The portfolio includes 18 neighbourhood sites and one sub-regional shopping centre across New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia and the ACT. More properties could be added to the joint venture and over the longer term Wesfarmers could decide to float the business. This is not on the immediate horizon, however.

The strategy of selling a half or majority stake in property holdings to push funding into other growth projects is not confined to the supermarket operators. Westfield Group has been selling half stakes in mature markets for some time, making sure to hold on to those management rights.

ISPT meanwhile is adding to the $374.1 million worth of half stakes in five Federation Centres properties last year. Again, it's broadly the same strategy.

Speaking of the big retailers, Woolworths has reportedly forked out $20 million for a 50 per cent stake in data analytics company Quantinum.

The Australian Financial Review reports that the non-controlling stake was purchased from employee shareholders.

Back to property for a moment, Melbourne's Hines Property Group has reportedly flagged a possible float of a portfolio of assets worth up to $500 million.

The Australian reports that the plan is in its early stages. With the IPO market apparently still in a bit of a freeze, that's all fine.

Wrapping up

One-time takeover target Arrium is thinking about offloading businesses in its troublesome steel arm, which is being hurt by the high Australian dollar and weak domestic demand from the construction centre.

Arrium has already undergone a significant restructure to survive in a world of diminished steelmaking activity for Australian operators and caught the attention of an Asian-backed consortium bidder called Steelmakers Australia.

Despite speculation that the consortium was hanging around for another possible bid since first emerging last year, we've heard nothing since.

Virgin Australia boss John Borghetti has moved to assure customers that it won't axe services on existing routes following approval from the consumer watchdog to acquire a majority stake in lowest-cost carrier Tiger Australia.

And finally, Habtoor Leighton Group, which has been the source of some trouble for the Australian construction firm, has picked up a $65 million deal to build accommodation and utilities on two artificial islands near Abu Dhabi.

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