Anne Gibson

Property editor of the NZ Herald

DNZ leads opposition as Argosy payout plan approved

Director Trevor Scott attacked DNZ. Photo / Richard Robinson
Director Trevor Scott attacked DNZ. Photo / Richard Robinson

Insults were traded between listed property entities with $1.6 billion of real estate yesterday as embattled Argosy Property Trust locked horns with many of its opponents.

DNZ Property Fund chairman Tim Storey, whose organisation has $600 million of real estate, hit out at the $900 million Argosy - and he was backed up by ACC's Ian Purdy, Mint Asset Management's Shane Solly and BT Funds' Matt Goodson, who also attacked on a number of fronts.

Poor performance, governance and management, a $20 million payout proposed to ANZ's OnePath to internalise the management and resolutions for that deal to go ahead without alternatives were some of the gripes levelled at the board chaired by independent Michael Webb.

About 200 Argosy investors met at Greenlane to vote on the $20 million payout, which the majority approved.

The role of MFL Mutual Funds, holding 23 per cent of Argosy, was also questioned by a number of investors, but acting MFL chairman Bill Birch stressed the superannuation giant had taken independent advice in backing Argosy's board.

MFL and Argosy are related parties, both owned by ANZ's OnePath.

Birch defended the role of Philip Burdon, MFL's chairman and a director of Argosy, absent from yesterday's meeting and who sent an apology.

Investors asked about ex-MP Burdon's role and how MFL was allowed to vote in favour of Argosy's proposals when it had a conflict of interest.

Birch, a fellow ex-MP, said MFL got a waiver from NZX to vote and that Burdon had no part in the decision to back Argosy.

Storey accused Argosy of lacking transparency in its management and implored investors to reject the $20 million internalisation proposal and consider alternatives, forcing the board to commission a comprehensive independent report explaining all the options and financial benefits of a new path such as another manager taking over, a process which could be achieved quickly.

"It's only then we will be in a position to make a proper decision," Storey said. "This process has been characterised by vigorous and hostile responses from the manager, but I don't want to get into petty debate."

He also asked investors to consider why they would think of paying $20 million to have precisely the same managers, same governance team and same directors in charge of Argosy.

Ian Purdy, of ACC, said Argosy's managers were bad and they should leave. "Property management is not a business ANZ is involved in anywhere else in the world. It's clearly in the interests of unitholders for the manager to cease because the trust has under-performed.

"ACC has a fundamental objection to paying poorly performing managers to leave. We have not found a single unitholder who thinks the manager should stay," Purdy said.

The managers could be fired and no $20 million payment was necessary.

Solly asked for a new board, lower costs and a review of management fees.

Peter Brook, an independent Argosy manager, said internalisation would result in a fully corporate structure, meaning shareholders could elect directors every year and a third of the board would be forced to retire.

The board had already made a commitment to running a company on a low-cost basis, Brook said.

Fellow independent director Trevor Scott attacked DNZ for using the media to further its cause after agreeing not to, although Storey hit back and said DNZ gave no undertaking but thought it appropriate to engage directly with Scott and Brook.

John Hawkins, of the Shareholders Association, defended Argosy and said his organisation backed the internalisation deal.

- NZ Herald

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