From afar the story of Quintis’s plummeting share price reads like a movie script — so-called activist investors attacking an outback-based company and watching from their United States boardroom as it seemingly implodes.
But for Kununurra farmer and Quintis shareholder Fritz Bolten, it’s reality.
“It’s been quite traumatic … and yeah a lot of people are worried,” he said.
He is one of several farmers in WA’s Ord River region with Quintis’s sandalwood trees on their properties and is a big advocate of its product.
“Not only is the timber really beautiful, but the oil really is nice,” he said.
Mr Bolten says two months ago he was disturbed to hear Californian short sellers Glaucus Research liken Quintis’s business model to a Ponzi scheme.
But since then he says he has also been concerned to learn the company’s board was allegedly in the dark about the loss of a major contract for five months.
“I was concerned that the board didn’t know … it’s been quite disappointing how little we’ve heard from the board and I think that’s wrong,” he said.
“We need to know that they’re working, working on communicating with the shareholders and the community and that they’re able to sort this out.”
Suggestions sugar industry could return
Already other Kununurra locals are looking ahead to what might happen if Quintis goes under.
One prominent businessman AM had spoken to suggested it could see the return of the sugar industry, which collapsed in the Ord a decade ago.
Retired Liberal senator Bill Heffernan said the region’s prime agricultural land should be used to grow food.
“And I’ve always said that if we don’t do it someone else will come and do it for us,” he said.
Mr Bolten said the idea of the Ord as a food bowl was a positive one, but was not supported by the market.
“The prices are going down down, down all the time and I don’t believe there’s the demand for food at the moment,” he said.
Quintis’s managed investment scheme criticised
Mr Heffernan was also critical of the Quintis’s business model, which in part involved a managed investment scheme.
“A lot of sandalwood was grown not so much for the scent of the sandalwood, which is the by-product, but of course for the tax deduction,” he said.
Quintis was due to come out of a trading halt today.
As well as explaining why it did not reveal it had lost a major contract, it was also expected to give the market an update on its outlook.
On Tuesday night, it appeared there was a strong chance Quintis would ask for more time.
Mr Bolten said he hoped whenever the company did emerge it would be with good news.
“We’ve certainly benefited from having sandalwood here,” he said.
“It’s given us some opportunities to grow our business and I really wish them well and I believe it will be a part of the north for a long time yet.”