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More Muscle for 'Abs'

AUSTRALIA - The green-lipped abalone West Coast residents call ``abs'' pack plenty of muscle - financial muscle that is, writes Christopher Russell, in Adelaide's Advertiser and Sunday Mail.

And, if the dreams of Elliston-based Australian Bight Abalone come true, the company will spend $250 million over the next six years establishing its ocean-farmed shellfish venture.

Just as those lean abdominal muscles take patient effort in the gym, Australian Bight Abalone is on a patient growth path.

It raised $3 million from wholesale investors in 2005 to add to its own $5 million for its first project. That project's first harvest, expected to be 100 tonnes, is now in progress, with abalone destined for the dinner plates of China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Japan.

In 2006, the second project raised AUS$4 million, and was open to retail investors.

Raising Interests and Investment

Around AUS$16 million was raised in 2007 and independent directors - including former Sealord Group chairman Sir Tipene O'Regan and former federal minister Nick Bolkus - were appointed to the board. The company gained a four-star investment rating and broadened its appeal.

The focus this year is to raise between $35 million and $50 million for its 2008 project. The idea is for investors pay $27,500 up front to become a grower - buying about 4400 juvenile abalone stocked on patented plastic trays housed in nets slung from pontoons at the company's lease site off the northern side of Waldegrave Island at Elliston. Investors then employ ABA to run the Aquafarm, and pay fees for management and various fees.

Mr Ferguson is also considering offering unit trusts and floating the company on the stock exchange.

"We've got a board committee looking at it. It would give us access to long-term debt markets and the broader investment community," he explained. "At that stage we'd have in excess of 2000 investors in projects and we'd look at offering them shares with a float at the end of 2009 or the first quarter of 2010," he added.

So far, high-wealth individuals from the eastern seaboard have invested in the schemes.

He has plans to expand Australian Bight Abalone's operations from production into processing, marketing and direct distribution into markets such as China.

The ABA project is a managed investment scheme with a tax office ruling providing tax deduction advantages.

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Ellen Hardy

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