Big cattle player forced out

Brad ThompsonThe West Australian

WA's cattle industry is bracing for fallout from the forced sale of one of its biggest players, amid fears a fire sale deal would further depress already weak land and cattle prices in the State.

Receivers controlling the Stoney family's properties, which total 1.6 million hectares - almost twice the size of Cyprus - have set next month as the target to complete the sale of the landholding, one of the biggest to hit the WA market.

The Commonwealth Bank appointed Ferrier Hodgson as receivers of several Stoney family companies last August to deal with outstanding debts of $15.6 million. Ferrier Hodgson wants to complete the properties' sale by next month and settle the receivership in July.

But there are fears in the cattle and pastoral industry that the properties, stock and extensive plant and equipment, including helicopters and a road train, could sell for less than $20 million. The fears are based on a flooded market for pastoral properties and low cattle prices.

It is believed the demise of the Stoney business can be traced to the Federal Government's snap ban on live cattle exports to Indonesia two years ago. Cattle at port waiting for export had to be trucked back to one of the properties.

The value of the landholdings was reassessed in the fallout from the temporary ban, which had a disastrous affect on equity levels.

The companies involved are controlled by Greg Stoney and members of his family, who declined to comment.

Based on the latest creditors' reports, debts owed to Commonwealth Bank have increased to $16.8 million. The landholdings include Hillside, Mileura and Balladonia stations, and the Dunmar and Jarrega farms. Elders is trying to sell the properties as a going concern on behalf of the receivers.

The stations are in three distinct climatic regions, from the Pilbara to the Nullarbor, in what was part of strategic investments to protect the business from rainfall variations.

The business plan involved transporting cattle from the stations to the 8000ha of freehold land comprising the farms at Badgingarra before sale.

An industry source said the fate of the stations - particularly Hillside in the east Pilbara - and farms would provide a lead for the rest of the market, with numerous stations from Kununurra to Eucla either officially or unofficially on the market.

Elders selling agent Greg Smith and Ferrier Hodgson refused to comment on the circumstances of the sale. Mr Smith said Elders had a host of stations listed for sale but tempered speculation about overseas investment in the pastoral industry. He said foreign investors were uncomfortable with pastoral lease tenure and in many cases it acted as a barrier to sales.

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