BREAKFAST DEALS: Packer's Qld pursuit

James Packer hints he could move in on Echo Entertainment's Queensland turf, while Fortescue-Brockman talks might take years to play out.

Crown may have won its casino battle in Sydney but the war with Echo Entertainment is far from over. James Packer and his troops now appear to be marching towards Queensland. Elsewhere, Fortescue Metals clings to its infrastructure assets while AIA Group runs the numbers on General Electric's Australian insurance unit. And there are some high-profile bets being made on an Australian cattle comeback.

Crown, Echo Entertainment

No sooner has he defeated Echo Entertainment with his Sydney casino bid, Crown chairman James Packer now appears to be planning a move on his rival's Queensland turf – but there are no plans for a full takeover.

The Australian reports that Crown representatives, including Packer, will soon meet again with Newman Government officials to try to gain entry to the state's gaming market, which is currently dominated by Echo.

The news also coincided with an appearance by Packer on Channel Nine, where the casino mogul launched a scathing attack on Echo's existing Queensland facilities, including the Treasury Casino in Brisbane, Jupiters on the Gold Coast and the Townsville Casino. 

“In Brisbane … I think Echo have done a terrible job," he said. "I think the quality of the properties in Surfers Paradise and Brisbane are a disgrace.”

“And I think that I am amazed still that Echo contracted and announced publicly with the government that they were going to spend $600 million on Jupiters three years ago and got increased gaming capacity as a result of that deal and have spent no money so far.”

Packer also ruled out an Echo takeover.

“We gave up on Echo legitimately a while ago,” he said. “And obviously it’s been a good week for Crown Sydney with Barangaroo, so Echo is the furthest thing from our mind, and my guess is almost certainly there’s going to be contractual stipulation with the government that’s going to make that impossible regardless.”

However, the Crown boss will certainly be watching Malaysian casino giant Genting Group, which is rumoured to have quietly increased its 6.6 per cent stake in Echo by about 1 per cent last week. 

The Malaysians are yet to reveal their plans for Echo, but their deep pockets could create real competition for Crown.

Brockman Mining, Fortescue Metals Group

Brockman Mining's tussle for access to Fortescue Metals Group's rail line, part of its so-called Pilbara Infrastructure unit, could have flow-on effects for other players looking for a piece of the haulage asset.

In a submission to Western Australia's Economic Regulation Authority, Fortescue argues it won't have enough spare capacity to support Brockman's proposal to use its rail line to transport 20 million tonnes of iron ore a year between 2016 and 2036.

The Australian Financial Review reports talks between the two companies and the state regulator may take months or even years to play out, which doesn't bode well for bidders lining up to buy a minority stake in PI.

That sale process was delayed again last month, when Fortescue pushed back the deadline from June 30 to as late as September.

AIA Group, General Electric

Asia's largest listed life insurer, AIA Group, is rumoured to be kicking tires at General Electric's Australian insurance unit.

Sources told The Australian AIA is among bidders shortlisted to buy the unit, known as GE Capital Insurance, which is valued at about $300 million. 

As part of the deal, GE Capital is said to be seeking distribution agreements with any buyer so it is able to sell products through its network of more than 10,000 retail outlets.

Nomura is reportedly running the sale.

Harold Mitchell, Keith De Lacy

Australia's struggling cattle station market had two vocal supporters over the weekend: advertising legend Harold Mitchell and former Macarthur Coal chairman Keith De Lacy

De Lacy, who is constructing a northern Australian cattle property portfolio with a view to list it by the end of the year, told The Australian Financial Review he is done with the resources sector.

“My view is the next big boom will be the soft commodities boom dependent upon feeding a hungry world,” he said. “Increasing incomes, particularly in Asia, mean these people would be looking more for carbohydrates, proteins and middle class foods.”

De Lacy's new company, The Staples and Agricultural Global Beef Investment, or STAG Beef, could list on the Australian stock exchange for up to $100 million, he said.

Separately, Mitchell called the bottom of the cattle station market as he forked out $4.3 million for a 177,100 hectare property in the Kimberly.

"This is the best time ever to get positioned,” he told The Australian Financial Review. “We can see a turnaround, there is no doubt about it.”

He also owns several other cattle stations with Seven West Media director Doug Flynn.

Wrapping Up

Unfortunately for Archer Daniels Midland, this newfound enthusiasm doesn't seem to extend to its proposed takeover of GrainCorp.

Liberal senator Bill Heffernan, who opposes the $3 billion buyout, says the nation's largest wheat buyer is complaining privately about the potential for intimidation by ADM. 

He is understood to be referring to Dick Honan’s Manildra Group, according to The Australian Financial Review.

If pressure continues to mount, Treasurer Chris Bowen may opt to push his final decision on the controversial deal back until after the election.

Elsewhere, Atlas Iron has thrown its support behind Shaw River Manganese, extending the junior explorer a $4 million line of credit to fund operating costs.

Shaw, which is focussed on a manganese project in Namibia, already counts Atlas as a major shareholder. 

"Atlas is a strong supporter of Shaw River's manganese strategy," the company said in a statement late on Friday.

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