GPG pension headache puts brake on wind-down plan

Guinness Peat Group will have to keep on more staff than previously planned.

Guinness Peat Group will have to keep on more staff than previously planned as it works with the UK regulator over its liability for the Coats pension schemes.

Chairman Rob Campbell told shareholders in Auckland the investment firm will have to keep certain corporate functions at GPG for longer than it intended as it figures out what level of funding it will have to provide the pension schemes.

As at December 31, the pension fund shortfall was valued at £281 million, with low global interest rates eroding theoretical future returns relative to its expected liabilities.

GPG's best case scenario is that it would not have to provide further support above the £124 million flagged, but is waiting on the UK Pensions Regulator's review as to whether the investment firm should provide more support.

The worst outcome for GPG would see a "substantial" exposure, which is considered as being remote chance, and a settlement is also an option the board is considering, Mr Campbell says.

"We recognise that this process has introduced an unwelcome level of uncertainty into the transition and capital return process. The board is very focused on the matter and we are committed to ensuring shareholders are fully updated as to the process and its implications."

Once the pensions investigation is completed, the GPG board will cut its workload until portfolio liquidation is completed, which will remove the need for separate GPG and Coats boards, he says.

Mr Campbell told shareholders their GPG investment should be viewed as the cash held by the company, minus any support Coats needs, plus whatever is realised from the Tower investment, and then the ongoing value in Coats.

GPG is expected to rebrand into the Coats unit this year, and MrCampbell says the UK threadmaker will keep its Australian and New Zealand listings "so long as substantial portions of equity are held here".

The shares fell 1.9 percent to 50.5 cents and have shed 13 percent this year.


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