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Urbus looks to boost image

By Christine Nikiel

Friday 18th July 2003

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Property company Urbus is talking up its future as a listed company as it gears up for its first appearance on the Stock Exchange on Monday.

But it must shed the stigma of its time as a syndicator of properties, some of which faced lease expiries and falling valuations before being consolidated into Urbus to average out performance.

Urbus director John Whitehead admitted the company had "a history" but it was trying to shake that off.

"There's no doubt our background is undisputably there but the board is aware of [the image]."

The fact the company was listing and now had four independent directors showed it was trying to change its image, Mr Whitehead said.

But market sources suggested the real test would be whether Urbus could increase the volume of shares traded after a long run of thin trading during its time on the secondary board. Urbus will hit the main board with a net asset backing of 93c.

Urbus is the product of the restructured portfolio of Waltus, which merged its 27 syndicated properties in 2000.

With a portfolio of more than 50 properties worth $390 million, Urbus is gaining critical mass.

But, as one investor pointed out, more properties meant more management fees.

Since 2000 Urbus has appointed four independent directors and a new chief executive of Urbus Property Management, former general manager of commercial property at Auckland International Airport Murray Barclay.

It sold a number of deadwood buildings with short-term leases that were bought for syndicate purposes through Waltus. After buying Waltus Syndicate companies and Waltus Syndicate special partnerships for $157 million last year Urbus became the country's fourth-biggest property company by total assets, weighing in at $390 million behind Trans Tasman Properties, Kiwi Income Property Trust and AMP NZ Office Trust.

Mr Whitehead said most Urbus investors at the moment were "people who were drawn into the [Waltus] syndicate by financial advisers."

He hoped the shareholder base would grow to include institutional support.

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