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A2 Milk executives cash out of surging shares with combined $36.6 mln payday

Friday 2nd March 2018

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A2 Milk Co executives have enjoyed a combined $36.6 million payday after cashing in on a surging share price since the milk marketer's announcement last week that first-half profit more than doubled and it had inked a deal with Fonterra Cooperative Group.

Share sales over the four days following the Feb. 21 announcement included $18.5 million sold by departing chief executive Geoff Babidge,  who hands over the reins to Jetstar chief Jayne Hrdlicka this year.

Five of six senior executives and one director sold down their a2 holdings between Feb. 22 and Feb. 26. A2 shares reached a record $14.62 on Feb. 22 from $9.29 ahead of the results. The transactions included on-market purchases and cashing up of partly paid shares. The shares started 2017 at $2.13 and were the stand-out performer last year, soaring 279 percent on the company's success selling infant formula in China and its early inroads into the US. They recently traded at $12.87, down 1.7 percent for the day.

Key managers at a2 received $2 million in share-based payments in the year ended June 30, 2017, as part of their total pay of $7.9 million. The company paid $1 million in directors fees last year.

Babidge sold 1.5 million shares for $19.7 million while paying almost $1.3 million to fully share up 2 million partly paid shares, netting out at about $18.5 million. He now holds 500,000 fully paid shares and 2 million partly paid shares. 

"The share transactions are to maintain a balanced overall investment portfolio," the disclosure to the NZX said. "Mr Babidge is to retire from his CEO role in July 2018."

Babidge took over a2's helm in September 2010, having previously served as chair of the A2 Dairy Products Australia, a joint venture between the milk marketing firm and ASX-listed Freedom Nutritional Foods, now called Freedom Foods Group. At the time, the Kiwi company was listed on the NZAX small-cap market and was trading at just 9 cents when his appointment was announced. 

Babidge has sold down his a2 holdings in the past in the narrow window allowed for directors and officers to buy and sell under stock exchange rules, and five joined him in the latest period with each supplementing their salaries with seven-figure deals. 

Jillian Nathan, the wife of chief executive Asia Pacific Peter Nathan, sold 280,000 shares for $3.9 million, leaving the Freedom Foods alumni's holding at 810,353 shares, 2.4 million options and 320,000 performance rights. Director Peter Hinton, a former Simpson Grierson partner, sold 125,000 shares for $1.6 million and hung on to 650,000 shares. 

Chief marketing officer Susan Massasso sold 200,000 shares for $2.8 million, keeping 2.8 million partly paid shares and 600,000 options. UK and Europe chief Scott Wotherspoon paid $504,000 to exercise 800,000 options and sold 400,000 shares for $5.1 million, leaving him with 2.4 million options and 400,000 shares. 

General manager international development Simon Hennessy, another executive who joined a2 from Freedom, sold 400,000 shares for $5.6 million, retaining 300,000 shares and 1.2 million options. 

A2's newest member of the executive team, head of business development emerging markets Michael Bracka, bucked the trend and bought 25,000 shares for $324,000, lifting his holding to 261,500 shares with a further 86,000 performance rights. 

(BusinessDesk)

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