Bethunes shareholders agree to sell Webb's auction house, seek new direction

A special meeting in Wellington attracted only a handful of shareholders.

Shareholders in Bethunes Investments, formerly known as Mowbray Collectables, have agreed to sell its Webb's auction house for $800,000 to Australia's Mossgreen.

The deal is conditional on the Australian auction house taking over the lease of the gallery's Parnell premises, which Bethunes director Ian Halstead said at a special meeting in Wellington on Friday was nearly complete, with the new lease needing to be approved by the purchaser's lawyers.

Completion of the sale is expected to occur on January 31.

Bethunes will receive $320,000 upfront, with the balance paid in quarterly $40,000 instalments over three years, in a deal that's expected to be loss-making.

Mr Halstead led the meeting as chairman Chris Swasbrook was overseas. The small meeting, which was attended by three shareholders including Mr Halstead, reached a quorum by way of proxies from 27 shareholders amounting to 22.3 million shares, or just under 20% of the issued capital.

"From our perspective, it was a procedural meeting," Mr Halstead said. "What determined the procedure has already been accepted by shareholders, it's received a lot of publicity."

The company is now a "cashed-up shell company", one shareholder said. "Historic volatilities in the financial performance has shown the disposal is quite important. We've now got that assurety that we have some time to look at new strategies."

The 22 million proxy votes were 99.45 percent in favour of the sale, with only one vote against.

"I'm very pleased with the proxies we have got," Halsted said. "A high percentage of our major shareholders have responded and we can be happy about that. The vote against it, there was no reason given, and it represents a very small shareholder - maybe he just ticked the wrong box, I don't know."

Bethunes has employed an analyst to determine its direction now, as Webb Galleries was its sole trading entity. The company will have about $420,000 in the bank as of Feb. 1, Halsted said, which will cover outgoings while it decides what to do.

"We said at the annual meeting that once we have identified some targets, it's likely we will be going back for more capital raising, but by then we'll have a definite proposition," Mr Halstead said. "The sale gives us time and we have to use that time wisely - I think the shareholders will give us time, but not too much time."

Bethunes changed its name after founder John Mowbray bought subsidiaries Mowbray Bethunes and Wildlife Philatelic for $950,000 last July, leaving the underperforming Webb's. At the time, Bethunes told shareholders it had two overseas parties interested in buying Webb's.

The company raised $1.54 million in a deeply discounted rights issue last August to restructure the Webb's business and build funds for an investment pipeline in new industries, before announcing the intended sale to Mossgreen in October.

The shares last traded at 1.7c, valuing the company at $1.96 million.

(BusinessDesk)