BREAKFAST DEALS: Queensland sell-off

France's Bred Banque Populaire is reportedly offloading its Bank of Queensland stake, while some Sunshine State infrastructure assets are up for grabs.

We're one month from winter, so let's talk Queensland. Bank of Queensland is waving goodbye to a major shareholder, but it's probably not a slight at the company's strategy or the state of Australian bank stocks. The Queensland government is thinking of mirroring its southern neighbours in New South Wales with port leasing deals. Meanwhile, GPT Group has told shareholders it's still keen for an Australand deal, a seasoned M&A watcher picks a ripper story on the GrainCorp takeover and Woodside Petroleum floats (not an IPO, mind you) with Royal Dutch Shell.

Bank of Queensland, Bred Banque Populaire

Second-tier lender Bank of Queensland is likely to reveal within the next two days that Paris-based co-operative lender Bred Banque Populaire has sold its $350 million stake in the Aussie bank.

According to media reports, Bank of America Merrill Lynch was selling its 11.5 per cent stake down last night at $9.80 a share. So far there's no word on the buyer/s, but they've done alright on the margins. The stock closed at $10.03 yesterday.

It's some good timing for BBP and that's probably about it.

The French lender has been on the register since 2008. While the share price hasn't recovered to the pre-GFC levels, or at least the levels that BBP bought in at, the euro-Australian dollar exchange rate is probably as good as it could get for a non-strategic French shareholder.

Queensland privatisations

Staying with the Sunshine State, it hasn't taken long for news of the bonanza that the New South Wales government struck with the leasing of Port Botany and Port Kembla to filter through to Queensland.

Queensland Premier Campbell Newman has ruled out considering a sale of three power companies Energex, Ergonomic and Powerlink, until after the 2015 election, putting a big bullet in a proposal that looked like it could have been growing legs. However, the management of the $71 billion Queensland Investment Corporation and leases for two ports have been put on the table.

Port of Gladstone and Port of Townsville will be offered to investors on long-term leases, following the success of the New South Wales auction that generated $5 billion for the debt-laden state.

Whether Gladstone and Townsville generate returns of the scale that the New South Wales ports did remains to be seen. Some have their doubts given the fact the Queensland ports are commodity focused, whereas the NSW ports pick up a lot of business from the container shipping industry.

Whatever happens, the state of Queensland will probably be changed remarkably by the Commission of Audit, led by former treasurer Peter Costello, where the state is drawing this debt-fighting inspiration from.

Now for the fight with the unions.

Australand, GPT Group

Listed property player GPT Group has reminded Australand that it's still in prime position to capture its development, commercial and industrial assets.

When asked at the company's first quarter results yesterday, chief executive Michael Cameron said GPT "remained committed to submitting a deal". There were no further details and nor should there be.

Australand set up a dataroom in the wake of news that majority shareholder CapitaLand, from Singapore, was "reviewing" its stake.

While GPT's offer probably doesn't sync up with CapitaLand's intentions – the Singaporean wants to sell its stake, GPT wants to buy some businesses – the ASX-listed player appears to be the only one that's really expressed significant interest in the process.

At least that's the word so far.

And while we're talking about a company saying, "Hey we ain't done yet," Sundance Resources told the ASX yesterday that it's pursuing new partnership deals with all its might.

Earlier this month the scheme of implementation with Sichuan Hanlong Mining finally fell apart after one of the most farcical bids in recent Australian corporate memory. The final total bid price was $1.3 billion, but the Sundance market cap is currently at $322 million.

"Sundance is pleased with the progress that has been achieved already and looks forward to successfully concluding arrangements for the introduction of a strategic partner to the project," the group said in a statement.

While shareholders will be understanding about the collapse of the Hanlong deal, they might be saying, "Please do look for an alternative."

And just going back to property for a moment, Goodman Group has raised more than $1 billion in new equity for Goodman Australia Industrial Fund and Westfield Group has sold its half-stake in a Brazilian joint venture with the Almeida Junior family, first launched in August 2011.

GrainCorp, Archer Daniels Midland

One of Australia's most experienced business commentators has delivered again with an M&A story that nobody else appeared to pick up on, including this columnist, yet was sitting in plain sight.

While everyone was busy considering the implications of the decision by GrainCorp to accept US suitor Archer Daniels Midland with a sweetened $3.4 billion bid – such matters as the international regulatory hurdles and the next Australian target – The Australian's Bryan Frith was reading over a document from the deal that was a little unusual.

In this morning's edition of the paper, Frith details how GrainCorp has picked up a stake in itself. That's right. The ASX-listed player is such a takeover target that it couldn't resist buying itself!

Actually, it's part of the deal with ADM. The 19.85 per cent stake that GrainCorp has purchased is in line with the stake that ADM has gathered since first emerging as a suitor about six months ago.

"GrainCorp has acquired a relevant interest in that stake through the terms of a takeover bid implementation agreement under which the two parties have entered into a 'disposal standstill'," writes Frith.

"Standstill agreements are an accepted part of commercial deals, but they can be contentious nevertheless. Standstills are generally regarded as acceptable where they are obtained in return for allowing a prospective bidder to have access to confidential information in order to undertake due diligence. And that appears to be the case with the ADM standstill."

What makes this standstill agreement different is that it prevents ADM from disposing of its shares for a period of time, specifically until December 31.

That's precisely when ADM must have secured support by from the Australian Foreign Investment Review Board and China's Ministry of Finance. That second one could prove difficult.

The thing is, standstill agreements usually do the opposite, preventing a bidder from acquiring shares in the target, not sell them.

Frith can't recall a deal like it.

Wrapping up

Unsurprisingly, Woodside Petroleum has decided to go with the floating LNG technology from Royal Dutch Shell, Woodside's largest shareholder, for the Browse LNG project. Check out Business Spectator's Stephen Bartholomeusz for this story.

Staying with resources, media reports indicate that Rio Tinto has put its New South Wales copper and gold mine Northparkes back up for sale, with one pointing to Kohlberg Kravis Roberts as a potential buyer.

Meanwhile, Queensland builder Watpac has picked up a $42 million design and construct contract for a major expansion of the Darwin International Airport.

Still in Australia's most northern capital and on construction, Leighton Holdings' subsidiary John Holland has won a $110 million contract from the Department of Defence in Darwin.

And finally, mining services company NRW Holdings has secured a $180 million contract at Rio Tinto's Nammuldi iron ore mine in Western Australia's Pilbara.

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