Australian firm buys NZ forest land

Friday 3 Aug 2018

The land beneath about 22,500ha of Otago forestry blocks in the lower South Island of New Zealand has been sold to a specialist Australian forestry investment fund, for an undisclosed price. As reported a couple of weeks ago, the fund has also bought a 38% stake in Otago's largest timber producer, Wenita Forest Products. The land ownership has moved from a United States-owned fund to an Australian fund.

The Overseas Investment Office this week granted consent for the sale of 22,553ha of land from overseas US fund, Fund 7 Foreign LLC, owned by Boston-based The Rohatyn Group, to Australian ANZFF2 NZ Ltd, a subsidiary of New Forests Australia Forest Fund 2, of Sydney. The cutting and management rights both remain with Wenita Forest Products, which has had them since 1990, and the land area remains under its control.

Wenita chief executive David Cormack said when contacted he expected few changes under the Australian governance, for either Wenita's 14 staff or more than 110 contractors it has involved in silviculture, harvesting, road building and transportation. ''It's business as usual for us. We're not expecting any major changes,'' he said. Industry sources understood the complex deal had been under negotiation for the past two years and the sale price was potentially ''well over $100million'', but that had not been confirmed.

The Australian fund invests in New Zealand, Australian, Asian and US forests, and has has more than $A3.5billion ($NZ3.81billion) of assets under management, the OIO's June decisions statement said. The Rohatyn Group partner Ian Jolly said in a statement on its website it had bought the Wenita shareholding in 2005, in a joint venture with Chinese logistics company Sinotrans, and 100% of the Otago Land Company's land in 2006.

Aside from the 22,553ha of sensitive land in Otago, ANZFF2 NZ Ltd will also take a 38% share in Wenita Forests Products and will also make an unspecified loan to Wenita. The OIO said in granting consent there would be an ''identifiable benefit'' to New Zealand. More trees would be pruned to improve wood quality and supply to local sawmillers would continue.

In a separate forestry offering, made public this week, the Rohatyn Group put up eight freehold forests for sale, called the Clutha Forest Estate, mainly southwest of Dunedin, and totalling almost 3000ha of mainly radiata pine with smaller areas of Douglas fir and macrocarpa.Source: Otago Daily Times

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