Rural Funds Group under attack from Bonitas Research short selling hit

Rural Funds Group under attack from Bonitas Research short selling hit
Rural Funds Group under attack from Bonitas Research short selling hit

The PwC-audited listed rural property trust, Rural Funds Group saw its shares plunge nearly 50 percent today.

The $335 million wipeout in just under the first 30 minutes of trade came after it was targeted in a report by the US-based short-seller Bonitas Research.

The rural company now has a market capitalisation of $455 million, compared to total declared assets of $802 million and net assets of $532 million.

Bonitas's previous damaging report was on Blue Sky Alternative Investments last year. 

"Evidence suggests that RFF’s reported profitability had included $28+ million of fabricated rental income paid to RFF by its two largest third-party lessees," the report posted on the Bonitas web site suggested.

The Texan group claimed the "fabricated" rental income of $28 million was by RFF's two largest third-party lessees, almond producers Select Harvests (ASX: SHV) and Olam Orchards.

RFF immediately moved into an ASX trading halt to later update its ASX-listed real estate investment trust unit holders.

Late afternoon Rural Funds Management managing director David Bryant hit back at the negative report.

Bryant said Rural Funds had contacted ASIC on Tuesday morning to “invite them to take a look at all our records."

It is also looking for another accounting firm to examine its accounts. 

Bryant said the A-REIT's accounts are "100 percent accurate."

RFG owns more than $900 million worth of agricultural assets including almond and macadamia orchards, vineyards, water rights and cattle farms.

It is managed by the privately owned Rural Funds Management Ltd.

The short-seller calculated that RFF had overstated its net assets by 100 percent.

It suggested the company's true net assets figure was $268 million as of December 31, 2018 which would put RFF in breach of its minimum $400 million net asset loan covenant.

"And as we have laid out in this report, we believe nearly 100 per cent of RFF’s reported profits since FY’17 are attributable to either fabricated rental income or non-cash gains from dubious fair value changes applied to RFF’s assets," it said.

The stock had dropped 99c to $1.36 in its early trade, with its resumption in. trading set for this Thursday.

The company completed a $149 million capital raising in July last year.

It was last in the headlines when the rural property trust bought Cobungra Station (pictured) for $35 million earlier this year.

Cobungra Station – one of Victoria's largest and most prestigious high-country beef breeding enterprises – was sold for only the third time in 100 years.

The $35 million deal secured the 6486-hectare alpine beef property at the foot of Mount Hotham, plus more than 24,000 hectares of adjacent grazing licences.


Rural Funds Group Blue Sky Alternative Investments

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