Geoff Wilson counters Nick Bolton's raid on Molopo's $65m cash box

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - NOVEMBER 11:  Geoff Wilson, from WAM, during the UBS Investment Conference on November 11, 2016 in Sydney, Australia.  (Photo by Daniel Munoz/Fairfax Media)
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - NOVEMBER 11: Geoff Wilson, from WAM, during the UBS Investment Conference on November 11, 2016 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Daniel Munoz/Fairfax Media)

It has all the makings of a Sergio Leone western.

Interests associated with corporate spiv, Nick Bolton, and Perth-based cowboy Farooq Khan, are no longer the only ones making a grab for the $65 million cash box that is Molopo Energy.

A white knight has emerged in the form of respected fundie Geoff Wilson.

His group, Wilson Asset Management, joined the treasure hunt on Thursday with a $33 million cash takeover bid for Molopo.

"If they want liquidity, we are offering 100 per cent cash," Wilson told CBD.

His bid matches the offer from Aurora, an entity associated with Bolton - the guy who has been banned from acting as a company director for three years following his involvement in the failure of 13 companies that left creditors with debts totalling $25 million.

So if you think Wilson's $33 million cash for a company doesn't sound like a great deal, wait until you hear the offer from Aurora, which offers a small amount of cash and then units in an Aurora fund that has a redemption schedule set up by associates of Bolton.

The best option, of course, is to stay put and keep Botlon's crew out of the driver's seat.

Wilson is targeting 50.1 per cent acceptance as a minimum condition, which is why its offer is also conditional on the outcome of a legal challenge by the Bolton and Khan-backed Keybridge. It is a major Molopo investor.

The Takeovers panel ordered Keybridge and Aurora to divest some of the shares the two companies acquired as part of their raid on Molopo after declaring "unacceptable circumstances".

It amounts to a 16 per cent stake in Molopo that ASIC will be selling once the legal challenge is settled.

The Wilson offer should add to the fun at this Friday's Molopo shareholder meeting. Keybridge will attempt to knock off Molopo executive chairman Alexandre Gabovich, and replace him with one of its own, William Johnson.

Fox Cunning

Rupert Murdoch's crucial backer at 21st Century Fox - Prince Alwaleed bin Talal - sold most of his shares as much as two years ago and the group still hasn't confirmed this fact to the market.

So there was no way that Fox CEO James Murdoch, and co-chairman Lachlan Murdoch, were going to come clean about any alleged attempt to sell Fox's TV and movie production businesses to Disney when they fronted analysts for the group's Q1 results on Thursday.

"Let me be very clear up front that we have a long-standing policy of not commenting on speculations around corporate activity or transactions ??? we will not be responding at all to questions or comments regarding recent press speculation," Lachlan told analysts in his opening breath.

But he did not entirely avoid the issue, which goes to the heart of why a sale of these assets would make sense: Does Fox has the scale to compete with the Netflixes and other potential new predators in the media landscape?

"Let me be very clear, Fox has the required scale to continue to both execute on our growth strategy and deliver increased returns to shareholders," said Lachlan.

James dutifully promised that Fox is still engaging with UK regulators over its next big play at building scale - the Sky takeover - and said "we anticipate the transaction to close by the middle of 2018".

The good news is that there was a brave soul among the analysts who tried to indirectly address the elephant in the room, Michael Nathanson from MoffettNathanson.

He opened with the suggestion that Fox is perceived as an asset collector. Nathanson then asked if industry trends had changed enough for Fox to rethink its asset mix for the long term.

"So I just want to know thematically, are you guys at the right scale?" asked Nathanson.

Both James and Lachlan swung at this one.

"We've always been asset builders whether it's Sky or Star or Fox News or the Fox Network, we operate these businesses to build them and grow. And we will continue to do so," said Lachlan.

James pointed out that the company has been happy to sell "assets that weren't going to change our lives", citing the sale of its Russian outdoor business as an example.

It would have been lost on no one that the sale of Fox's entertainment assets would be very life changing for James who runs these businesses.

Home fires

There's something brewing in the household of Treasury Wine boss, Michael Clarke.

Just a few weeks ago he sold $2.8 million worth of stock and shuffled another 100,000 shares to his missus, Fiona Clarke.

On Thursday Mr Clarke disclosed to the market that Ms Clarke sold 90,000 of those shares for $1.4 million. Mr Clarke also transferred another 100,000 shares across to his wife.

So we know who makes the big decisions in THAT household.

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This story Geoff Wilson counters Nick Bolton's raid on Molopo's $65m cash box first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.