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Watson turns debt-collector in a bid for share of Baycorp 'action'

By Nicholas Bryant

Friday 28th April 2000

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Eric Watson REPO MAN: Eric Watson gets ready to muscle in on the credit-information game
Superinvestor Eric Watson is the mastermind behind a plan to create Australasia's largest receivables management company, challenging sharemarket darling Baycorp.

The estimated $A100 million initiative will see 16 Australasian companies bundled together as a credit information conglomerate, pitting Mr Watson against top-performing credit information company Baycorp Holdings.

The vehicle for the deal is Perth-based exploration minnow Frontier Petroleum, offering a back-door listing on the Australian and New Zealand stock exchanges.

New Zealand Petroleum, 62% owned by Mr Watson's company Malibu Holdings, has a 20% stake in Frontier Petroleum.

Other Watson-linked companies making the deal possible are Eldercare New Zealand, which holds just under 5% of Frontier, and Strathmore Group.

Strathmore owns 50% of Christchurch-based CreditNet, a likely provider of the new company's online technology.

As The National Business Review went to press, sources close to the Watson camp said final legal matters were being tied up.

Trading in Frontier Petroleum's shares was suspended pending an announcement at the company's request early yesterday.

The market expects the cornerstone shareholder in the new company will be Mr Watson's investment vehicle, Cullen Investments. Frontier is likely to change its name to Receivables Management Group.

Receivables Management Group is a natural leader of the conglomerate as one of Australia's largest credit information companies, a direct competitor to Baycorp.

Baycorp managing director Keith McLaughlin said he was not surprised by the rumours and believed his company had a significant competitive advantage in the region.

"From Baycorp's point of view we don't see this as being hugely material ... competition's not unhealthy in any industry. At the end of the day it comes down to results.

"We're competing with the two largest collection companies in the world [Equifax and Dun & Bradstreet] ... Obviously Eric Watson's seen what Baycorp's up to and wants a slice of the action," Mr McLaughlin said.

Just two weeks ago Baycorp announced it was using Asia as a doorstep to the wider world in a joint-venture deal with Singapore's Keppel Communications.

It is also one of the few stocks to have begun bouncing back after faring better than many in last week's slump, falling $1 to $10 a share.

At press time Baycorp was trading at $10.35, up 20c on the day.



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