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Orion spends up over the Tasman

By Chris Hutching

Friday 21st February 2003

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Christchurch City Council-owned electricity lines company Orion has averaged out its losses in Australian-listed Energy Developments by buying more shares and lifting the amount it has spent to $58 million.

But the total stake is now worth only $40 million, thanks to a falling EDL share price and rising New Zealand dollar.

The latest purchases take Orion's holding to 14.99%. Infrastructure company, listed Infratil, owns another 12.87% and the two companies have effective control of EDL while proclaiming independence of each other to avoid breaching takeover threshold rules that come into effect at 19.9%.

Infratil's appointee to the board includes chairman Bruce Harker, while managing director Chris Laurie has just taken over the job after changed domestic circumstance prompted him to end 15 years at the helm of Orion and move over the Tasman.

Orion started buying EDL under Mr Laurie's tenure last July when its share price was $A3.60 compared with the current $A2, up on the $A1.90 of last week.

Orion's strategy is to repeat the strong performance it enjoyed when it bought gas company Enerco a few years ago and made a $200 million profit.

Half of that money has been set aside as a special economic development fund for pet projects identified by the city council.

But EDL is beset with technical problems in one of its engines used in landfill gas power generation.

The company says the problems are under control.

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