NTR chief suggests flotation within next two years
'Range of options' include sale of existing assets or flotation
The chief executive of utilities group NTR has committed the company to what he described as a "significant liquidity event" within the next two to three years that could lead to either a flotation of the business or the sale of some of its existing asset portfolios.
Jim Barry told shareholders at the group's annual general meeting in Dublin yesterday that he foresaw a "range of options" that could provide returns to investors.
Shares in NTR, which is controlled by chairman Tom Roche and his family, are currently traded on the so-called grey market, but the stock is highly illiquid.
A flotation would enable shareholders to realise their assets more easily. The shares currently trade at €1 compared to as much as €3.30 during summer 2009. The group has a market capitalisation of €206m.
Both Mr Barry and Mr Roche declined to elaborate on any specific details of the plan. The Roche family owns 40pc of NTR while investment group One51, controlled by Philip Lynch, owns 25pc.
NTR currently has assets that include majority stakes in US-based businesses such as wind-energy group Wind Capital and solar-energy firm Stirling Energy Systems and its sister firm Tessera Solar.
It also owns about 31pc of Nasdaq-listed ethanol producer Green Plains Renewable Energy.
Other assets include the Greenstar waste processing business, a majority stake in water treatment firm, Celtic Anglian Water, a 20pc stake in telecoms group Imagine and a small rump of toll road assets. It used to own 51pc of electricity group Airtricity, which was sold in 2008 for €1.8bn.
NTR also previously owned the West Link and East Link toll bridges in Dublin. It sold the latter just recently to a Dutch investment fund and offloaded other road assets to French group Egis for a total of €50m.
"The range of options could include everything from the distribution of surplus cash to the sale of an asset to the partial or full listing of the group," said Mr Barry regarding the planned liquidity event.
Mr Roche told shareholders that while the company was considering "all options", an outright sale of the group "is not one of them".
"We do not enter businesses with the sole purpose of building them and selling them," he said. He added that the "recent economic perfect storm" had compelled NTR to sell some assets in order to keep the group's balance sheet "full of integrity and strength".
Continued capital investment in NTR's solar subsidiary has been hampered by tight capital markets, forcing it to delay commercialisation of the energy technology.
Mr Barry reiterated NTR's continuing commitment to paying a significant dividend despite a narrowing cash balance, citing previous undertakings made to shareholders.