Emergency cash call sends Phaunos shares plunging

Shares in Phaunos Timber Fund tumbled 22% to an all-time low after the forestry investor, revealing "material uncertainty" over its cash position, unveiled an emergency fund raise.

The London-listed fund, which has timber investments from Brazil to New Zealand, said it was planning an "equity injection" through the sale of 5% of its issued share capital, equivalent to about $20m, to resolve funding difficulties posed by a potential demand for cash at one of its US investments, and by the downturn in Chinese lumber demand.

New Zealand's Matariki, in which Phaunos owns a 35% stake and which, at 169,000 hectares, is the country's third largest forestry estate may suspend dividends "as a result of reduced timber prices in China", a major export market.

Chinese lumber imports, largely a reflection of construction sector buoyancy, actually recovered strongly in the April-to-June period after a poor first quarter, when they fell 16% by volume, according to Wood Resources International.

However, with "much uncertainty" over Chinese economic prospects, "it is not likely that we will see the same bump in wood imports in the third quarter as was the seen in the second quarter", Wood Resources International said.

"Rather, the short-term forecast is for a flat line, or even decline in log and lumber volumes landed at Chinese ports in the third quarter."

'Material uncertainty'

Phaunos said that the headwinds had created "material uncertainty over the immediate liquidity requirements of the company and its cash position.

"Without action, the company may be unable to pay its liabilities as they fall due within the next three-to-six months," a key test of a company's viability.

The group added that, having held meetings with shareholders, it believed that the fund-raise would be "successful", and was likely to prove a "one-off event".

Nonetheless, it said that it was in "advanced" talks over raising debt as an alternative way of raising cash, with the sale of one of its investments being investigated too.

Market reaction

The fund raise was poorly received by investors, who sent Phaunos shares tumbling 22% to a record low of $0.33 in morning deals in London.

"There is clearly considerable uncertainty at the company and as such we move our recommendation [on Phaunos shares] to 'hold' whilst we await further information," said Edward Hugo at broker VSA Capital, which had previously had a "buy" recommendation on the stock, with a target price of $0.66.

The shares are now trading at 42% of the fund's published net asset value, of $0.78 per share as of the end of last year.

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