Auckland Airport responds to ‘obscene behaviour’ claim by councillor [Stuff, 17/04/20]

Auckland Airport has painted a picture quite different to the claim by an Auckland Councillor of “obscene behaviour” in its rapid $1.2 billion capital-raising.

The council is the airport’s biggest shareholder and officials have told the politicians it was not “invited” to take part in the capital raising on April 6.

The allocation of new shares to bolster the airport’s Covid-19-hit balance sheet, has seen the council’s stake dilute from 21.9 per cent to below 20, shrinking its share of any future dividends.

Not taking up the discounted price lost the council $18 million in immediate value, and a subsequent rise in the airport’s share price a further $70 million profit loss, on the council’s $1.6 billion stake.

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“We reject any suggestion that we treated any shareholder unfairly,” said Auckland International Airport Limited’s chair Patrick Strange, in a statement to Stuff.

Darby called for a snap discussion at Thursday’s Emergency Committee, seeking answers on the decision taken by the chief executive and mayor, not to take part in the capital raising, without consulting councillors.

Council officials told the meeting the 24 hours available to the council to decide on putting up to $263 million into the capital raising, was not enough for proper consideration.

Councillors were also told the council was not invited to take part.

“(Having) no option to participate was a little bit rough on us,” legal manager Bram van Melle told councillors.

Strange said that while the share placement was not announced until the morning of Monday April 6, “Auckland Airport informed Auckland Council and a small number of major investors of the intended equity raise under strict confidentiality on the Sunday before the offer was launched.”

The mayor Phil Goff said he took what he called a “courtesy call” from AIAL’s chief executive Adrian Littlewood on the Sunday, and informed the council CEO Stephen Town the next morning.

READ MORE: How not to lose control of Queenstown Airport Corporation – Niki Gladding

Goff did not detail what transpired in the call, and has not been available to talk to Stuff

“Under market rules, we are obliged to treat all shareholders equitably and this is something we take seriously,” said Strange.

The announcement of the share placement, open to applications during the Monday, was the opportunity for major institutions and investors to participate.

Town said taking part in the capital raising was not a starter.

“We were not in position to be able to make a decision in one business day so there was no decision to make.”

Goff told the meeting neither the public nor government would have approved of the council borrowing $263 million to buy shares during the Covid-19 crisis.

The council sought no external advice on the share placement, and Australian shareholder activist Stephen Mayne who flagged the non-participation to councillors in a good Friday email, said there were other ways the council could have bought, without upsetting its cash reserves.

“If you haven’t got the cash to invest, you should be selling down at (the current share price of) $6 and reinvesting (in the placement at $4.66),” he wrote to councillors on Thursday.

Regardless of whether the council had other options, few councillors seemed to have little appetite to debate the issue, immediately before going into a major confidential briefing on the financial impact of Covid-19 on the council’s budget.

However they did support one of Darby’s calls, for a report on how the council in future handles its airport shareholding, and whether it should consider seeking to appoint a director to the AIAL board.

Read this on Stuff here.

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