Anne Gibson

Property editor of the NZ Herald

Key Metlifecare owner eyes sale

Chief executive Alan Edwards says a stronger balance sheet means Metlifecare is well placed to pursue growth strategies. Photo / Greg Bowker
Chief executive Alan Edwards says a stronger balance sheet means Metlifecare is well placed to pursue growth strategies. Photo / Greg Bowker

Metlifecare's cornerstone shareholder Retirement Villages NZ could be selling out and dividend repayments may be reinstated.

The listed retirement village firm's annual meeting at Ellerslie heard how Retirement, with 81.96 per cent, might cut its stake and the company could have a more open register in a huge shakeup of the business, which owns 16 villages throughout New Zealand.

Metlifecare has already announced a capital structure and liquidity strategic review by Goldman Sachs.

Shareholders heard yesterday how that could become public in the next fortnight.

The annual meeting lasted only 21 minutes, drawing chairman Greg Flood to note it was one of the shortest on record.

A shareholder asked if owner Retirement Villages was looking to sell its stake.

"I don't think I'm in a position to comment on rumour but we have appointed Goldman Sachs to do a strategic review and all those things are on the table," Flood said.

Shane Solly of Mint Asset Management, which holds Metlifecare shares, said the business was in play.

"There's several pieces of this jigsaw that need to go together. Metlifecare is an attractive part of the market in terms of its exposure but they are constrained in what they can do because of their balance sheet, which doesn't lend itself to making investment.

"It needs to be resolved or we need to see a change of control," Solly said.

Another shareholder asked if annual dividends might flow again after being suspended indefinitely and Flood said this was also an option.

"As part of the strategic review, we are looking to start to grow the company and a return to dividends would be one of the potential outcomes. We hope to make an announcement in the next couple of weeks. It's something the board is very aware of," Flood said.

A shareholder complained how the company's share price was just over $2 yet it had a net tangible asset backing of more than $4.

Flood said this had not escaped the board's attention and trading in Metlifecare was thin even though debt had been reduced.

"We have to try to find a way to get the price closer to NTA and that's [a focus] of the board," Flood said.

The company has cut debt levels by $44.5 million after selling its Christchurch Merivale Village.

Alan Edwards, Metlifecare managing director and chief executive, gave an upbeat outlook.

"During the past year, we have significantly strengthened our balance sheet.

"We are now in a position to be able to grow our business and we will look to seek opportunities for growth.

"Metlifecare also has a number of development opportunities on land adjacent to existing villages and these present attractive opportunities to be developed in a corporately responsible fashion.

"The company is poised to grow in a manner that adds value for all our stakeholders, residents and staff," Edwards told the meeting.

A source said Retirement Villages wants to sell down its holding to around 50 per cent, which would help to remedy the lack of liquidity in the stock.

"Whether these things happen is going to come down to market conditions and market appetite, but New Zealand is one of the more expensive equity markets in the world, so I would have thought there would be quite a bit of demand for stocks that are well-priced," he said.

The NZ Superannuation Fund owns 3.8 per cent of the company.

Metlifecare shares closed down 10c at $2.00.

- Additional reporting: APNZ

- NZ Herald

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