Northern sales spark speculation market may have bottomed

James Nason, 09/07/2013

A small but noticeable uplift in sales activity has added weight to speculation that the northern property market may have reached a bottom and buyers are now starting to move while current values are available.

The Northern Territory has seen its first major property sale in 16 months following the settlement of the 4814 square kilometre Gulf breeding property Calvert Hills for $15 million.

The previous sales of note in the Northern Territory were Tanumbirini (est. $33m) and Murranji (est. $5m) in early 2012.

The settlement of Calvert Hills comes as a handful of live export properties in north western Western Australia also look like selling. It is believed that Margaret River and Wallal Downs in the Kimberley have been placed under contract in separate sales in the past month, as well as Cooley station in the Pilbara.

NT property agents have also reported encouraging progress in recent weeks on negotiations to sell a number of larger Victoria River District holdings that have been on the market for an extended period.

Killarney Station is being closely watchedOne property being closely watched is Killarney Station which was placed into the hands of corporate receivers in early February before its owner Wallco Pastoral company was able to lift the station from receivership two months later.

Wallco is understood to be deep in private negotiations to sell Killarney to an interested party, but despite talk that offers have been made, a result is yet to be confirmed.

Blue chip Victoria River District stations Riveren and Inverway are also still on the market and will represent an important benchmark for the northern property values should a sale be finalised.

Ray White Rural northern property specialist Russel Wolff told Beef Central there appeared to be a growing view among buyers that if they did not buy country this year they may miss the chance to secure country at current values.

In another confirmed northern sale, Ray White Rural sold the 925ha Breadalbane East near Proserpine, with a carrying capacity of 1000 cattle, for $3.1 million under the hammer at auction last Friday.

Mr Wolff said five bidders operated in the auction but Bowen district cattle producers Terry and Susan Vail from Salisbury Plains were ultimately the successful buyers.

The recent increase in sales activity is a departure from the trend of previous years, which has seen the northern property market starved of confidence in the face of the Indonesian export market downturn and slumping domestic cattle prices.

There is little doubt that property values have fallen significantly since 2009 when prices peaked above $1000/beast area, but a lack of sales since that time has made it difficult to quantify the extent to which values have fallen.

It is not uncommon to hear figures of 40pc bandied about as a rough indication of the general devaluation, however further sales are still needed to provide an accurate benchmark of where values now stand.

Frank Peacock from valuation firm Herron Todd white in Darwin said that while he had not yet been able to fully analyse the Calvert Hills result in beast area value terms, the sale shows there is still value in northern properties over and above the value of the herd they're carrying.

Sold by long-time owner Alex Chappel, the 4814 sq km naturally-watered Calvert Hills sold for $15m walk in, walk out with 15,000 quality Brahman cattle to the Macmillan Pastoral Co of Cloncurry.

The settled price for the bare land minus stock and plant was $6.845m.

Calvert Hills was not officially placed on the market or advertised, with the sale negotiated privately between Mr Chappel and the Macmillan family. The Macmillans' country around Cloncurry is desperately dry, and the acquisition may have been partly driven as a buyer chasing grass. 

The recent kick in sales activity is being interpreted as a potential sign that buyers now believe the market has bottomed, while it also highlights an increasing preparedness of vendors to meet the market.

Mr Peacock said further signs of increasing buyer interest were reflected in increased requests for due diligence work from buyers interested in northern properties, while he said his office had also fielded inquiries from a party representing an Indonesian based buyer.

He said that while recent sales certainly represented a drop in the market since the peak of the market, the sales signalled that confidence was increasing that  the bottom of the market may have been reached, and that vendors were also increasingly prepared to meet the market.


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