SYDNEY, June 2 (Reuters) - Australia’s second largest cattle station with a land area larger than Lebanon is for sale with the owners hoping for a domestic buyer in order to avoid government approval delays incurred by a foreign sale.
Clifton Hills Station in the northeast corner of the state of South Australia, near the centre of the country, covers 1.65 million hectares (4,077,239 acres) and has 18,300 head of cattle and approval for 21,500.
It is the latest station to be put on the market in recent months as cattlemen capitalise on favourable market conditions with upbeat beef export forecasts, good weather and a strong location, close to Asian markets.
Wally Cooper, managing director of stock and station agent Rural Property & Livestock, said he had fielded up to 60 inquiries for the station, including all stock, plant and machinery, mostly from domestic buyers.
“There have been some inquiries from the U.S, Asia, Central Europe and Hong-Kong-based capital groups,” he told Reuters by telephone on Saturday.
The station’s owners, however, are keen to sell to a domestic buyer to avoid the time it takes for foreign firms to get approval from Australia’s Foreign Investment Review Board.
Any foreign bid would attract government scrutiny and new rules were announced early this year. Concern over China’s expanding interests mean that sellers of agricultural land must now market the holdings to Australians first.
One of the owners of Clifton Hills, Neil Dunn, told Reuters he was hoping the station would fetch up to A$50 million.
He said it could take up to 12 months to clear a sale to a foreign buyer, by which time the conditions would have changed, along with cattle prices.
“It’s a whole different season,” Dunn said.
“At the moment everything is good. Flood waters are just receding and there’s a big massive area of feed to utilise.”
“I don’t know if ‘discount’ is the right word, but it is the preferred option to sell to an Australian buyer. Even if an international buyer has more money,” Dunn said.
In April, it was reported that British private equity firm Terra Firma which bought Consolidated Pastoral Co (CPC) in 2009, was seeking more than A$1 billion ($775 million) for its Australian cattle stations: a 20 percent-plus premium to a 2017 asset valuation.
CPC’s 16 properties across northern Australia have a 400,000 head carrying capacity and cover 5.5 million hectares (13.6 million acres), about the size of Croatia.
The business, which includes a 90 percent interest in two Indonesian feedlots, had A$881 million in assets, according to a March 2017 valuation.
An interested party who did not want to be identified confirmed to Reuters that the property was still on the market.
The CPC business is half the size of Kidman & Co which sold in late 2016 to Australian mining magnate Gina Rinehart and her minority bidding partner, Chinese developer Shanghai CRED, after two China-led bids were rejected by the government. (Reporting by Alison Bevege Editing by Robert Birsel)