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NZX's stoush with Clear grain exchange hits the courts

Tuesday 15th November 2011

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NZX’s suit against the founders of the Clear Grain Exchange began in the High Court in Wellington today as Australians Grant Thomas and Dominic Pym seek to quash the stock exchange operator’s application.

Judge Warwick Gendall rejected an application by NZX to have media excluded from the hearing.

The hearing involves applications from both sides as to whether Thomas and Pym and their companies Ralec Commodities and Ralec Interactive misled the NZX over its A$6.4 million purchase of the trading platform in 2009, and if the New Zealand courts have jurisdiction.

The stock exchange filed the suit in July, saying the Clear exchange’s founders breached their warranty, and made other related claims against the Australians.

Once a decision is made, Thomas and Pym are expected to lodge their own claims against the stock exchange.

In July, NZX denied claims it faced earn-outs of as much as $17 million relating to the purchase, saying those suggestions were “irresponsible.”

The stock exchange was ordered to pay Thomas A$259,705 by a Melbourne court earlier this year after reaching a settlement with the Clear exchange founder last year.

The brouhaha prompted NZX to undertake an urgent review of its Clear valuation, and the Financial Markets Authority had a look at the matter, though neither found problems with the adequacy of stock exchange’s disclosure.

Yesterday, Judge Gendall heard an application from NZX to block the National Business Review from taking still photographs of the court case, the NBR reported.

NBR applied for permission to take photos last week, and received a notice from NZX lawyers late on Friday opposing the bid, the business paper reported.

The grain exchange was set up to take advantage of the break-up of the Australian Wheat Board monopoly, and was looking to capture a slice of the A$100 million to A$150 million growers spent annually on commissions to sell their products.

Grain trading was expected to add another suite to NZX’s agricultural products, and came as it was in the process of setting up its dairy futures trading.

At the time of the sale, NZX said the grain exchange had registered more than 1,100 grain growers, 100 brokers and 200 buyers and bulk handlers across Australia are registered, and was set to link with a further 13,000 growers registered with GrainCorp, that country’s largest grain bulk handler.

In August, the Wellington-based company trimmed its ‘P&L’ forecast for the Clear grain exchange to a range of $1.5 million to $1.8 million, down from the $2.25 million estimate it gave investors at a briefing in March and said reported grain volumes in the second quarter had been “weak.”

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