Friday, February 10, 2017

Chinese billionaire eyes Wellard boss’ farms

Chinese billionaire eyes Wellard boss’ farms

Billionaire Li Ka-shing.
State Controlled Billionaire, Li Ka-shing.
A Hong Kong billionaire whose company had its bid for NSW electricity assets rejected on national security grounds is one of the overseas investors being tempted by a $100 million sale of WA Wheatbelt farms.
Li Ka-shing made a stunning entry into local farming this year when he purchased the biggest single offering of freehold land in WA’s history.
He paid about $35 million to buy properties covering almost 78,000ha from farming giant John Nicoletti. The deal was on hold for five months pending Foreign Investment Review Board approval.
Mr Li, a household name in Hong Kong and one of the richest men in Asia, has now been offered three farming hubs owned by embattled Wellard boss Mauro Balzarini that cover almost 38,000ha.
Mr Balzarini has put a $100 million-plus price tag on his farms. They are considered more productive than those sold by Mr Nicoletti, who was once regarded as WA’s biggest grain grower.
CBRE director of agribusiness Danny Thomas handled the Nicoletti sale and has been appointed to sell the Balzarini farming hubs at Dongara, Watheroo and Kojonup.
Mr Thomas was reluctant to comment yesterday, but hosed down speculation Mr Li was close to buying the Watheroo hub for more than $20 million.
Cheung Kong Infrastructure, controlled by Mr Li, was one of two Chinese groups to have bids of up to $14 billion for a 50.4 per cent stake in Ausgrid electricity assets in NSW rejected at the last minute.
Treasurer Scott Morrison said last week that there were security concerns about Ausgrid.
In response, Cheung Kong said it was a global infrastructure company with more assets in Australia than in Hong Kong and China.
Mr Li opted to purchase the Nicoletti farms in his own right and not through family-controlled company CK Life Sciences, which holds most of its agriculture assets in Australia.
CK Life boasts that it is the biggest supplier of turf management products in Australia, the second-biggest vineyard owner in Australasia and the biggest producer of salt for the domestic market in Australia.
Companies under its control own three vineyards in Margaret River, a salt refinery in Coogee and a farm chemicals plant in Kwinana. Along with CBH, CK Life was an under bidder in the $420 million sale of Joe White Maltings and its Forrestfield plant in 2013.