Utilico buys a chunk of Smiths City

CECILE MEIER
Last updated 13:00 02/07/2014

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A well-known British investor has taken a strategic stake in Christchurch retail chain Smiths City.

Duncan Saville's investment company Utilico Investments today declared a 13.6 per cent stake in the retailer.

Utilico's strategy is to invest in undervalued companies. Among its top 10 investments is New Zealand infrastructure company Infratil, of which Saville is a director.

Utilico also has interests in gold mining, wind power, waste treatment and financial services companies.

Saville, a chartered accountant, is a director of ICM, the company that manages Utilico's investments. Smiths City managing director Rick Hellings said Utilico Investments was new to the company's shareholding.

He would not comment on the details of the transaction, but said there had been transfers between major shareholders in the last couple of weeks - three shareholders had sold and Utilico had bought.

It appears that Utilico has bought the 5.1 per cent stake in Smiths City from Wellington rich-lister John Holdsworth, who notified the stock exchange today that he no longer held the stake.

Two other large shareholders are Douglas Belton, who in March this year held 15.7 per cent of Smiths City - at that time, he had just sold 1 per cent of his holding - and California-based Guaranty Finance Investors, with 18.3 per cent disclosed in January.

"It's not an abnormal transaction - for us it's business as usual," Hellings said.

"We haven't met with them [Utilico], we don't know anything about them."

James Smalley, a director of sharebroker Hamilton Hindin Greene, said Smiths City was a relatively illiquid stock and so tended to trade on the share market at a sizeable discount to its net assets..

That discounted price could well have attracted Saville and his interest in the company.

"Generally they're looking at undervalued assets, so maybe its something to do with that," Smalley said.

"I think it's their finance arm that makes most of the money."

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