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Major US investor packs up toys and goes home

Friday 18th February 2000

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By Michele Simpson

Giant US investment group Franklin Resources has taken an axe to its New Zealand shareholdings, pulling out millions of dollars in favour of more lucrative overseas markets.

In the past few weeks it has cut its stakes in Brierley Investments and Fletcher Challenge and cashed up $10 million of its shareholding in Air New Zealand.

The move echoes a report from the country's biggest broking firm, JB Were & Son, showing levels of offshore ownership in the Stock Exchange were down to 54.5%, a fall of about 5% since December 1997.

"Despite headline ownership remaining stable, there was a clear shift out of New Zealand by portfolio investors," the report said.

Rival broker Merrill Lynch said some large offshore fund managers were highly critical of this market. "One of the issues is that investors are looking for growth rather than value," Merrill Lynch strategist Mark Benseman said.

Those growth stocks are telecommunications and media, and overseas investors are buying them in other markets.

Franklin Resources would not comment on why it had taken steps to cut back on its shareholding in New Zealand companies, although it is understood the group is looking at other markets such as Japan.

The chunk of the sharemarket held by offshore portfolio investors or foreign fund managers shrank from 30.3% in December 1998 to 27.5% in December last year.

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