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24 Mar 2018 17:08
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  •   Home > News > Business

    Zespri shares are halted for vote

    Zespri shares are halted for vote on constitutional changes for the kiwifruit exporter.

    Shares of Zespri Group will be halted for two days pending a vote on constitutional changes aimed at strengthening grower ownership and control of New Zealand's statutory kiwifruit exporter.

    Shareholders will vote at a special meeting in Mt Maunganui Wednesday on a series of resolutions that will impose a cap on the number of shares they can hold relative to trays of kiwifruit produced, and phase out dividends for non-producing shareholders over seven years.

    Existing growers who stop producing after the vote would cease getting dividends after three years.

    The vote comes after shareholders in 2015 approved plans to strengthen grower control amid concerns about an increasing misalignment between producers and shareholders. The changes required an amendment to the Kiwifruit Export Regulations last year.

    Of Zespri's 120.7 million shares on issue, some 18.1 million are held by people no longer connected with the kiwifruit industry and a further 29 per cent are held by producers at a ratio of below one share per tray, which Zespri deems "under-shared".

    At the other end of the spectrum, 8 per cent of the shares are held by producers at a ratio of more than four shares per tray, known as "over-shared".

    Chairman Peter McBride told shareholders last August that when Zespri was corporatised in 2000 all growers had a share in the business but over time that position had eroded.

    "Left unaddressed, the issue is a source of destabilisation to the future growth of the industry, because an increasing proportion of growers will not have a stake in Zespri as shareholders," he said.

    Zespri wants to aim for a ratio of one share for one tray produced but the new cap would set the limit at four shares per tray.

    Voting entitlements would be set at the lesser of one voting share per tray or the total number of shares the producer holds. The changes also take into account the rights of owners and lessees of kiwifruit orchards.

    A seventh resolution is aimed at helping address the misalignment of shares by giving Zespri the right to issue, buy back and distribute shares.

    The process, which won't be mandatory, will include one or more targeted share buybacks on terms to be determined by the board. It needs shareholder approval under the Companies Act because some of the actions are likely to constitute major transactions that fall outside its normal course of business.

    Zespri shares last traded at $7.70 on the Unlisted platform giving the company a market capitalisation of about $930 million. The stock will be halted on Wednesday and Thursday to allow Zespri to update its record of shareholdings.

    They began trading on Unlisted in early 2016 and have soared 340 per cent since then.


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