Written on the 13 December 2016 by Nick Nichols

THE Abedian family is poised to tighten its grip on Sunland Group (ASX:SDG) after announcing a new program to buy back up to 10 per cent of the high-profile developer's issued capital.

Neither company chairman Soheil Abedian nor managing director Sahba Abedian will participate in the buyback, but a successful completion of the program over the next 12 months could see their combined interest in Sunland rise to 39.7 per cent.

The Abedians currently control 35.7 per cent of the company, up from about 21.5 per cent in 2010 after the first of a series of annual buybacks was completed by the company.

Since 2009, Sunland has cut its issued capital by half through share buybacks, a move largely triggered by the company's shares trading below their net tangible asset (NTA) backing.

The company's most recent NTA of $2.22 compares with Sunland's current share price of around $1.60, up about 5 per cent today following the buyback announcement.

Sunland's subdued share price has persisted despite rising profits, including a recent announcement that the developer is targeting a net profit of $35 million in FY17.

The latest profit target, up from $31.5 million recorded in FY16, has been buoyed by settlements from the luxury Abian residential tower in Brisbane's CBD.

The buyback also comes after a solid run of acquisitions by the group, particularly on its home turf in south-east Queensland.

Sunland has a $4.2 billion development pipeline, although it recently announced plans to shelve one of its biggest projects, the controversial $800 million Gold Coast twin-tower known as The Mariner which is earmarked for Mariner's Cove at Main Beach.

The project has been shelved pending a state government review of development on The Spit which has an existing three-storey height limit.

Sunland still has a host of major projects planned for the Gold Coast, including the redevelopment of the ageing Greenmount Resort, the purchase of which settles this month.

"The board sees this as an excellent opportunity to continue consolidating the group's issued capital as part of our ongoing capital management strategy, particularly when shares are trading at a discount of 32 per cent below the net tangible asset value," says Sahba Abedian (pictured).

"This latest buyback will be funded by the group's existing cash and working capital resources and will further enhance earnings per share in the medium to long-term."

Sunland topped up its cash reserves in November 2015 through a $50 million note issue at a time when it was expecting to make a start on The Mariner.

The company has done well from the buyback programs since 2009, with 163.2 million shares acquired for $146 million, or 89c per share.

Sunland has assured shareholders that the buyback will not affect its scheduled dividends, which remain at a ratio of 40 to 50 per cent of net operating earnings.
Author: Nick Nichols





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