Fisher Funds seeks strategic suitor

High-flying Fisher Funds managing director Carmel Fisher has put half her funds management company on the line to pay out former colleague Warren Couillault.

And she's now admitting that she's looking for a new shareholder to take a strategic stake in the business.

Fisher and her husband Hugh took out a loan from ASB Bank in June, with 5533 of Fisher Funds' 10,000 shares pledged as security to buy Mr Couillault's shareholding in the business.

Mr Couillault, who used to have a 27 per cent stake in Fisher Funds, departed in February amid rumours of a rift and keen industry speculation about the size of his payout.

Ms Fisher said she and Hugh had decided to buy the shares rather than have the company buy them back.

"We didn't have the cash available so we took out a loan, end of story," she said.

Mr Couillault is still owed some of the money and will be paid on a "long-term payment schedule," Ms Fisher said.

In May, NBR reported that Fisher Funds had issued a confidential information memorandum seeking a new shareholder for the company.

At the time, Ms Fisher strongly denied there was a sale process going on.

But this week she told NBR she had been in talks with an interested party at the time, which have since ceased.

Now she's keen to bring in another party with investment expertise in a different area from the existing Fisher Funds team.

"It's less about money, more about governance. I don't think it's right for Hugh and me to have 83 per cent of the company long-term.

"At some stage we'll look at finding ideally a strategic partner, someone who can bring a set of skills round the board table that the existing team doesn't have," Ms Fisher said.

Fisher Funds is being picky about the type of shareholder it wants and Ms Fisher isn't keen on a buyout from a larger rival.

"It's not about big - big corporations don't appeal to me at all, it's not part of our culture.

"You've got to date a lot of people before you find your husband," she said.

That said, Ms Fisher was confident a new shareholder could be on board within a month.

Fisher Funds is one of the country's best-known funds management businesses, thanks in large part to clever branding on the part of Ms Fisher.

Its investment rationale is to pick small to medium-sized companies with high growth prospects.

Fisher Funds has seven funds including three that are NZX-listed, and more than 13,000 KiwiSaver clients. For the last few years its funds have provided impressive returns to investors.

But they were among the hardest hit in the stockmarket downturn that began last November.

The latest Fisher Funds accounts, for the year ending Match 31, show the company turned a profit of $3.84 million on fee income of $16.5 million.

A roughly $5 million reduction in performance fees (which are dependent on returns for investors), was offset by a more than $3 million increase in management fees.

During the year, Fisher Funds became a KiwiSaver provider and started offering the Barramundi and Marlin funds.

It also doubled its dividend to shareholders, to $5 million, and the company's ASB Bank loan increased from $764,000 to $2.4 million.

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Fisher Funds needs a suitor because it has no one on board competent of operating a large investment company.
The purchase of an $8 million house by the Fishers earlier this year reveals an inability to read the fact that the property market would suffer a further decline,and provides an extremely poor role model for investors in regard to how much should be squandered on a lifestyle asset.
Meanwhile,Don Brash lives in a rented house.

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