Elders moves to break with troubled past

Shifting its headquarters away from historic Elder House was a symbol of the company's new focus on shareholder returns, Mr Allison said.
Shifting its headquarters away from historic Elder House was a symbol of the company's new focus on shareholder returns, Mr Allison said.
Shifting its headquarters away from historic Elder House was a symbol of the company's new focus on shareholder returns, Mr Allison said.

Shifting its headquarters away from historic Elder House was a symbol of the company's new focus on shareholder returns, Mr Allison said.

Shifting its headquarters away from historic Elder House was a symbol of the company's new focus on shareholder returns, Mr Allison said.

Shifting its headquarters away from historic Elder House was a symbol of the company's new focus on shareholder returns, Mr Allison said.

Shifting its headquarters away from historic Elder House was a symbol of the company's new focus on shareholder returns, Mr Allison said.

Shifting its headquarters away from historic Elder House was a symbol of the company's new focus on shareholder returns, Mr Allison said.

The 175-year old agribusiness group Elders will shift headquarters from its historic building in the Adelaide CBD next year to another city building in a move which chief executive Mark Allison says is another symbol of a "new" Elders focused on return on capital.

The company will also undertake a 10-for-1 share consolidation in early January after shareholders approved the restructure at the annual meeting in Adelaide on Thursday.

This is designed to try and remove some of the volatility in its low share price and position the rural company as a higher-quality stock more comparable with listed rivals.

The share consolidation will mean that Elders will shrink its capital base from 837 million shares on issue, so the equivalent shares will trade on the ASX at around $2.15 each rather than 21.5 cents.

Mr Allison said Elders was now "up on our hind legs" and moving forward after a difficult past few years. Under previous management it was forced into major asset sales to cut debt levels which had ballooned to $1 billion.

The company said it had repositioned itself as a pure-play agribusiness in a back-to-basics approach.

The shift out of the head office in historic Elder House in Currie Street in the Adelaide CBD reinforces the new-look Elders.

"That's a symbol of what I was talking about with the return on capital and profitability," Mr Allison said after the annual meeting, referring to a renewed focus on investment returns which had triggered the relocation.

A final deal is still being negotiated for a move to the new Bendigo Bank office tower in nearby Grenfell Street.

Mr Allison estimated it would save Elders around $1.5 million annually. In its heyday at Elder House, the company occupied six floors, but is now down to two-and-a half.

Mr Allison also said that the fall in the Australian dollar was positive for Elders across its businesses, and the company had made a solid start to trading in the opening months of its new financial year. The Elders' financial year stends on September 30.

"Our sense is that cattle prices will remain high for a little while," he said.

A drought in northern Australia would put pressure on livestock clients, but strong feedlot and live export demand for cattle was expected to continue.

"It's one of the beauties of a diversified agribusiness," Mr Allison said. Asked how trading was going in the first three months of the new financial year, Mr Allison said "it's not too bad".

Mr Allison said Elders would be embarking on a new branding campaign in 2015 to address perceptions from some in the rural community that it was still "a basket case" financially.

He said this was absolutely not the case, with a strong turnaround in profit for the year ended September 30, 2014 to a net profit after tax of $3 million from a loss of $505 million in the previous year.

But shareholders won't be paid a dividend for at least another two to three years because Elders still needs to first address the issue of the $145 million of hybrid securities listed on the ASX, which in practical terms have the characteristics of debt.

Mr Allison said all options were on the table what to do with the hybrids, but no final decisions had been made. The company has set out an eight-point plan designed to deliver EBIT of $60 million by 2017 and a 20 per cent return on capital.

This story Elders moves to break with troubled past first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.