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Australian Rail And Port Bid Seen As Vintage Hart Move

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
Graeme Hart. Pic: NZPA
Graeme Hart. Pic: NZPA

By Pam Graham of NZPA

Wellington, June 19 NZPA - A tilt at Australian rail and port operator Asciano by New Zealand's richest man Graeme Hart is being seen as cheeky.

Australian media reported this week that Mr Hart put in a complex offer to inject equity and support capital raisings by embattled Asciano, which was considering offers from private equity companies as part of a "monetisation" strategy.

Asciano opted for a $A2.3 ($NZ2.91) billion underwritten equity raising, which was well in excess of its market capitalisation, rather than sell assets or bring in a cornerstone shareholder at the bottom of the market.

Mr Hart's move is being seen as opportunistic and typical of the man who declines media interviews about his mostly privately owned businesses. He has been busy turning New Zealand's Carter Holt Harvey into a global beverage packaging business, having made a fortune mostly in food businesses.

His modest Auckland offices have a view of the port but his failed foray into the sector in Australia is being seen as another example of a love of a challenge and a good deal.

It is understood he did not use advisers and was not "inside the tent" early on in the Asciano deal.

Asciano has a small board of just four members and chief executive Mark Rowsthorn owns 10 percent of the company. Mr Rowsthorn is known in New Zealand as a former chairman of Toll NZ.

Toll NZ's rail assets are now back in government ownership and called KiwiRail and the Government has been roundly criticised for over-paying.

Mr Hart is believed to have held high level talks fairly late in the Asciano process around the same time that UBS was beginning to present a recapitalisation option to the company.

The Australians were respectful of his business record and interested to see an offer but in the end it was low ball, conditional and not ever seriously in contention.

"When someone like Graeme Hart comes along you sit up and take notice," sources said.

Asciano owns the former Pacific National rail business in Australia and the Patrick Ports. It was split away from Toll Holdings Ltd.

Mr Rowsthorn and his father Peter Rowsthorn were part of a small team, including Paul Little, which purchased Toll in a management buyout in 1986. Toll now operates a supply chain in 45 countries.

Mr Hart's success story is also well known. He started as a tow truck driver. His Rank Group operates in 56 countries and has manufacturing facilities in the United States, Britain, Germany, Australia, New Zealand and eight other countries.

Mr Hart has topped gaming magnate James Packer as the richest person in Australasia, according to Forbes Asia magazine's rich list.

Mr Hart's net worth was calculated at $US4.7 ($NZ7.47) billion, well clear of Mr Packer who reclaimed the title of richest Australian with a net worth of $US3.1b, the magazine reported in its May issue.

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