Hamish Fletcher

Hamish Fletcher is a business reporter for the NZ Herald

New NZX chief faces challenging times

NZX new chief executive Tim Bennett
NZX new chief executive Tim Bennett

The NZX's newly appointed chief executive will have a lot to "get his teeth into" when he starts in May, say market commentators.

The stock exchange operator yesterday announced Singapore-based New Zealander Tim Bennett would replace current boss Mark Weldon in the top job.

Fund managers contacted by the Herald were not familiar with the 46-year-old, who is a partner at international consultancy firm Oliver Wyman. Before joining Oliver Wyman in 2009, the New Zealand expatriate and Victoria University graduate worked at Boston Consulting Group for almost a decade.

According to an NZX statement, one of Bennett's most notable achievements was supporting the development of the global iron ore derivatives market, which cleared $10 billion in contracts last year.

He has also advised on strategy and acquisitions on a number of exchanges in Asia and the Middle East.

While Bennett "looked good on paper", Mint Asset Management portfolio manager Shane Solly said the new chief executive would have much to take on in a short time when he assumes the role on May 7.

"It's a big year. You've got one of the SOEs potentially listing, there's ongoing question marks over whether Fonterra needs capital opportunities - quite substantial events in the life of New Zealand's equity capital markets."

The Government has earmarked the partial privatisation of state-owned Mighty River Power, Genesis, Meridian and Solid Energy as well as selling down its stake in Air New Zealand.

Mighty River Power, set to be the first company off the block, is expected to be floated this year.

There is also the prospect of seeing tradeable non-voting Fonterra shares on the exchange in the next year.

Bennett would also have a number of "loose ends" to tidy up, including a legal dispute with the Australian Clear Grain Exchange and appointment of senior management, Solly said.

"There's lot of things for the new man to get his teeth into."

BT Funds Management portfolio manager Matthew Goodson said Bennett was arriving at an exciting time.

"Obviously there'll be a big lift in the diversity of owners of shares. I'd expect retail New Zealand investors to be very interested in [SOE shares which will] lead to a good lift in the volumes traded as well," Goodson said.

"The prospects are more interesting than they have been for a while. It's partly because the economy, if it hasn't bottomed already, appears to be close to bottoming. Aside from the SOEs there's probably, on a three-year view, a number of other companies who put off listing during the recession and might revisit it at some point."

Hamilton Hindin Greene director Grant Williamson hoped Bennett would have a strong focus on attracting new companies to the exchange.

"Overall, I think the NZX has been very successful under the guidance of Mark Weldon. I suppose the biggest disappointment is not to see the number of listed companies growing significantly over the last number of years and I think that is something that does need to change going forward."

But Goodson said care needed to be taken that companies listed were mature enough to have certainty of profits or exciting prospects.

Bennett issued a statement saying he planned to expand the NZX's dairy futures and accelerate the market's development. He was not available for further comment.

TIM BENNETT
* Aged 46.
* New Zealand expat, works at international consultancy firm Oliver Wyman.
* Studied at Victoria University and University of Pennsylvania.
* Married and has one daughter.
* Will replace current NZX chief executive Mark Weldon in May.

- NZ Herald

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