Friday, March 14, 2008 Auckland Airport all go for sale

LATEST: Shareholders have voted in favour of the $1.8 billion partial takeover of Auckland International Airport by a Canadian state pension fund.

By the close of the offer at 5pm yesterday, shareholders holding 79.7 percent of the company had voted on the bid, with 57.7 percent of those voting approving the offer, the airport said today.

A majority of shareholders voting needed to back the offer for it to go ahead.

Share acceptances had reached 62.4 per cent by 5pm yesterday when the bid closed. On Wednesday they had been at 37.8 per cent.

Six per cent shareholder Guardians of the New Zealand Superannuation Fund was among those accepting.

As shareholders swung in behind the bid, the focus has switched to whether the Government will approve the deal, after the Canadian Pension Plan Investment Board's concession over its $3.60a-share offer for a 40 per cent stake in the airport company.

It is a swift turnaround for a bid that looked dead in the water only a week ago after the Government closed a tax loophole and tightened foreign investment rules.

A turning point came on Tuesday when 3.3 per cent shareholder and utilities investor Infratil, seen as a barometer of sentiment, said it would sell.

Shares in the airport, a top-10 company that controls 70 per cent of New Zealand's international air traffic, jumped 35 cents yesterday to end at $2.54.

In addition to gaining 40 per cent of shares, the Canadian fund needed to gain approval from a majority of voting shareholders.

The harshest blow to the bid came on March 4, when Auckland Airport shares plunged 20 per cent after the Government said it would tighten rules to prevent overseas investors gaining control of so-called sensitive assets.

That followed a February 26 move preventing companies from offering tax-deductible payments.

This had formed a key part of a capital restructuring proposal by the pension fund if its partial bid succeeds.

However, this week the Canadian pension fund said it would voluntarily restrict its voting rights to 24.9 per cent in a bid to calm Government worries about foreign ownership of key assets.

The Government's move was seen by many as politically motivated.

One analyst said: "The Government doesn't give a damn about the economic ramifications, this is all about getting votes."

The Overseas Investment Office said it would refer the bid to Land Information Minister David Parker and Associate Finance Minister Clayton Cosgrove.

- with REUTERS

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Disclosure: I own AIA shares

c Share Investor 2008