Market News 30 January 2023

Johnny Lee writes:

THE strong start to the year for our equity market, driven by outperformance from the likes of Mainfreight, Fisher and Paykel Healthcare and Ryman, has not been shared across all asset classes, as the property sector continues to display signs of distress.

The listed property trust sector – the likes of Argosy, Property for Industry, Kiwi Property Group and Precinct – have broadly held their ground in the first month of this year, as chief investment officers ponder their next move.

Some property trusts have been pruning portfolios over the past twelve months, selling underperforming assets to relieve debt burdens, effectively shrinking their portfolios and reducing gearing. Some are evolving into development companies, buying undervalued assets and re-developing them for short-term sales.

Already this year, we have seen one Listed Property Trust announce plans to leave the exchange, as Auckland Real Estate Trust clarified its plan to delist from the ASX and NZX and offer to buy out unitholders. Those who choose to reject this offer will become unitholders of a private company.

Meanwhile, a large number of property syndicates have begun ramping up advertising, seeking new investors into their funds as economic conditions threaten to put pressure on future returns. Many of these syndicates, funded heavily through debt, are being forced to lower investor returns as the cost of these debts rise.

Some of these advertisements need to be examined very carefully by potential investors. Presumably, the regulators are maintaining a close eye on these, as some stray dangerously close to the point of misleading.

One example I have seen quoted - in large font – is a double-digit return on investments. The fine print clarified that the return quoted represented the average return ''since inception''. The most recent distribution was actually less than half this figure, and below term deposit rates.

''Since inception'', of course, includes radically different economic conditions and a sustained period of much lower interest rates.

The same fund boasts access to a ''private secondary market'' run internally by the syndicator over the telephone. One of the advantages of Listed Property Trusts is the transparency a public listing provides – anyone can see the value of their units at any time, and provided buyers exist, can exit the funds at any time.

Listed Property Trusts also carry the advantage of diversification – most have a large enough portfolio with a diverse range of tenants to ensure that problems at one particular site do not endanger the entire fund. Smaller syndicates are much more vulnerable to such problems.

Investors should tread carefully in this sphere. Property syndication has been successful for many investors, and well run and appropriately capitalised funds, with strong tenants, will no doubt endure this period of economic headwinds.

Such syndicates are unlikely to resort to misleading advertising campaigns in a bid to attract new investment.

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THE destruction in value seen in Laybuy Group shares, a New Zealand company listed on the ASX, is a textbook illustration of a sector that failed to plan for adverse conditions, and for the ''inconvenience tax'' applied when a company elects to delist.

For those unfamiliar, Laybuy is a ''BNPL'' firm – meaning ''buy now, pay later'' – allowing consumers to purchase products without having to fund the transaction immediately. Like the credit card industry, the sector pitches itself to retailers as facilitating transactions that would otherwise not occur.

Readers will have their own beliefs regarding the societal value of such an industry. Surveys have shown the BNPL sector is disproportionately used by women and is particularly prevalent in retailers for items such as clothing and cosmetics, assets that lose significant value immediately after purchase.

The BNPL industry has struggled in recent times. Once a darling of global markets, many companies operating in this space have been reporting fast-growing revenues but faster-growing losses, leading many to shelve future plans, as their shareholders force them to shift in focus from growth to profit.

This shift is being driven partly by rising interest rates and is not unique to the BNPL sector. When interest rates are virtually nil, investors are more forgiving of poor short-term results. However, the recent rise in global interest rates is seeing these loss-making companies change tack.

Major BNPL firm Klarna, for example, announced in August it would lay off 10% of its staff as part of its plans to pursue profitability. Its losses almost quadrupled. Its CEO was quoted as saying the company would ''focus more on short-term profitability over long-term new, potential investments''.

For Laybuy, the loss in value can also be attributed to investor fears of shareholder liquidity.

Laybuy plans to delist from the ASX in March, citing the costs of administering a public listing as one driver for this decision. After raising $80 million in September 2020, then a further $40 million in June 2021, the company is now delisting to save an estimated $480,000 a year in costs associated with the public listing, less than 1% of its $51.6m net loss last year.

The company then intends to pursue a public listing on New Zealand trading platform Catalist, allowing shareholders to trade once a week through the platform.

Catalist is a stock exchange, similar to Unlisted, that targets companies in situations where an NZX listing is either uneconomic or administratively difficult.

This is a major coup for Catalist. Laybuy boasts a shareholder base in the thousands, although one assumes this will shrink significantly leading up to the vote to delist. Catalist will be hopeful that, in the process of onboarding these new investors, awareness of their product and proof of reliability will persuade other firms to make a similar leap.

Australian investors may be less than enthusiastic about establishing an account in New Zealand, choosing to accept a steep dive in share price today rather than navigate our AML procedures in the hope of a share price recovery in the long term.

Normally, companies would offer small shareholders the option of selling their shares back to the company as at the price on a certain date. Unfortunately, Laybuy has stated it is not in a financial position to do so, forcing those smaller shareholders to sell on market.

The announcement saw the Laybuy share price fall substantially. The IPO in 2020 was priced at $1.41. The capital raising in 2021 was priced at $0.50. The share price is below $0.04 at time of writing.

Laybuy's market capitalisation has accordingly fallen from near $250 million to below $10 million. If the company was listed on the NZX, it would rank amongst the smallest ten companies.

The directors argue that the company is now fundamentally undervalued. Company directors tend to hold such views. However, judging by the sheer volume of transactions that occurred last week, this view is shared by many.

The delisting process is subject to a vote, which is not guaranteed. There may yet be another twist in this tale, depending on who is acting as the buyer for the millions of shares changing hands each day.

Laybuy's management is confident its long-term strategy will see shareholder value restored over time. It believes it can make a profit, with the first step being to reduce the costs associated with a public listing.

For Catalist, this is an exciting development. A successful onboarding of Laybuy onto the platform will almost certainly drive further interest from other companies, providing a proof of concept for companies considering a similar move.

The vote is scheduled for late February.

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INFLATION data last week has caused a modest change to market pricing for interest rates, as pressure on high rates was relieved by lower-than-expected inflation data.

The Reserve Bank's next announcement is scheduled for 22 February. Interest rates are still expected to climb, with the question being whether we see a 0.75% or 0.50% increase.

Economists at all of our major banks have begun to moderate expectations before the meeting, with most anticipating a 0.50% increase, rather than the 0.75% increase priced in prior to last week's inflation data.

The Reserve Bank has shown both a willingness to ignore market expectations, and a willingness to be adaptive to global and local data. No doubt these discussions will be ongoing as we speak.

However, it is now looking increasingly likely that 2023 will mark the peak of this interest rate hike cycle. What happens after the peak occurs will be subject to data, of course, but is a matter of contention for many around the globe.

Central banks have made it clear that interest rates will remain high for some time, until inflation is firmly entrenched in the target band. Economists and business leaders, conversely, have made it clear that their expectations are that interest rates will peak soon and return to lower levels shortly after.

One consequence of this is the effect on mortgage rates. Mortgage rates have begun to invert.

Normally, the certainty of borrowing for longer terms (typically 5 years) is offset by a higher interest rate. This makes sense, as borrowers gain the certainty of repayment terms, in exchange for a slightly higher rate.

Several banks have now bucked this trend, offering lower rates for long-term borrowing and lifting rates for the much more popular shorter-term borrowings. Clearly, some banks are trying to persuade borrowers to lock in long-term rates at these levels.

Not every bank is doing this. Indeed, those homeowners looking to lock in long-term rates now have a very strong incentive to shop around, due to such large discrepancies in rates.

These discrepancies highlight the uncertainty we now face. February's Reserve Bank meeting will be important to set the tone for the year ahead and give New Zealanders an insight into its plans for the future.

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TRAVEL – In February and March our advisors will be visiting Whanganui, New Plymouth, Hamilton, Christchurch, Wellington, Nelson, Napier, and Auckland and are available on the following dates:

David will be in Whanganui on Thursday February 2 and in New Plymouth on Friday February 3.

Chris will be in Hamilton on Tuesday February 21, at the Ventura Inn & Suites boardroom, 23 Clarence Street, and in Christchurch on February 14 and 15, at the Airport Gateway Motel.

Edward will be in Wellington on Friday 10 February, in Nelson (beachcomber) on Friday 17 February, and in Napier 22 (Mission Estate) and 23 of February (Crown Hotel).

Edward will also be in Auckland on Wednesday March 1 (Ellerslie), Thursday March 2 (Wairau Park, North Shore) and Friday March 3 (Auckland CBD).

Johnny will be visiting Christchurch on March 22, seeing clients at the Russley Golf Club.

Clients are welcome to contact us to arrange an appointment.

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The events unfolding in Auckland over the last few days will have a devastating impact on lives, businesses, and communities. We extend our sympathies to all of those impacted by this disaster.

Chris Lee & Partners Ltd


Market News 23 January 2023

David Colman writes:

2022 was the year in markets that almost nobody wanted but it really had to happen and I'm starting to think much of what transpired was needed to bring prices nearer to true value.

A sustained fall in markets had not occurred for so long that many newer investors had not experienced one and were at greater risk of assuming that prices can only go up, and need not reflect value.

Long term investment should acknowledge market history, reflecting decades rather than just days, weeks, months and years.

Ultimately the market performance last year was grim (the NZ50G was down 14.5%) but it is important to keep in perspective that markets had been unsustainably bullish for more than ten years.

Until last year, the only notable falls after the GFC wash out, until the early  impact of the global covid-19 pandemic were short-lived, almost a sole comma in a long paragraph.

Between 2009 and 2020 (an 11 year bull run) there were only small retreats in late 2016 and late 2018 before the sharp Covid-19 crash in early 2020, with quite rapid recoveries in the months following each decline.

The downturns were seen by many as opportunities to buy into the next upward trend. This seemed to reward in some cases, depending on the investments involved for traders in particular.

The longest bull run in history (2009 to 2020) followed by a rapid recovery and beyond after Covid-19 to the latter half of 2021 contributed to many new investors forming the false impression that you could invest in almost anything and it would go up in price, Gamestop and Bitcoin being examples of such illusions.

The almost 3 year long bear market (the longest in history at 929 days) following the dot com bubble provided the example that many ignored.

The fear of missing out (FOMO), while the bull rampaged, bloated by 'cheap money', started to push inexperienced retail investors into riskier growth assets.

Those enticed by the proliferation of so-called 'finfluencers' (financial influencers) on social media, showing prospective subscribers how to supposedly get rich with a 280 character tweet, a 15 second video clip, or simply a single image, were imperilled.

A flood of new digital assets of dubious, long-term, real-life value, such as non-fungible tokens, obscure cryptocurrencies and others, promised much in 2021 but in 2022 delivered spectacular losses.

In comparison to the NZ dollar which fell 5.9% versus the US dollar in 2022, bitcoin fell 65% after a spectacular rise illustrating the instability of even the most traded cryptocurrencies. 

Initial Coin Offerings accelerated with an estimate of over 20,000 cryptocurrencies now in existence with vast sums paid to the promoters and originators with no regulatory action available for those who (gullibly) had parted with real cash for the new coins and tokens. Many are worth nothing today.

Another hazard was the introduction of trading platforms designed to entice any retail investor with casino-like instincts.

Some hastily formed platforms made claims of being highly reputable. The exact opposite was true. Unfortunately this may sound familiar to those who endured the collapse of the NZ finance company sector in 2006 to 2010 after a dozen years of rapid growth ungoverned by sensible regulation, accounting laws, and credible supervision.

As recently as October last year Sam Bankman Fried's cryptocurrency exchange FTX was self-described as the world's most compliant cryptocurrency exchange. If accurate, that should have sent shivers down the spine of anyone using other less compliant cryptocurrency exchanges. It's massive collapse and bankruptcy now appears to be the result of a complete fraud with billions of dollars either lost or stolen.

That case on its own highlights why the market reversals of 2022 were needed.

For those who prefer to communicate with more than just emojis, parts of the social media space may as well be outer space but for the easily 'influenced' it can be used to persuade the vulnerable to empty their wallet to all manner of schemes disguised as reputable ways of creating instant wealth.

It seems there are enough people who don't question whether the influencer displayed on the screen in front of them, flashing wads of cash in front of a mansion and a sports car, is authentic evidence of financial wisdom.

Perhaps younger investors do not investigate the influencer's claims because the gamified trading app they play the market on indicates the digital asset they bought yesterday has risen, as indicated by the corresponding onscreen confetti and jackpot sound effect with poker-machine similarities.

If 2022 taught new investors anything, it was that markets can and do fall without necessarily a quick rebound, or even any sort of rebound.

I advocate that new investors seek financial advice from more traditional sources to avoid the pitfalls present on social media and elsewhere.

A business like ours can offer guidance not just on reliable options to grow wealth but also on what should be avoided.

I hope we see a more productive and profitable use of the world's capital, than we saw in the years leading up to last year's reversal.


Looking at the year ahead there are expectations of both higher interest rates, a recession, and, as confirmed last week, an election.

As market commentators lament the imposition of higher interest rates and slower growth in economies, there are also those that have no debt and sufficient savings that they become somewhat thankful that there will be some reward for lending funds to those who need, or choose, to borrow.

We have also observed the unfairly low price put on the money of savers.

Interest rates have risen sharply but unfortunately inflation is still higher.

Inflation, as economic consultants will tell us, is a thief in the night.

It is likely to dominate the financial headlines. The Consumers Price Index (CPI) was up 7.2% for the September 2022 year.

Data for the year ended December 2022 will be examined intently this week when updated on Wednesday 25 January, the day our new prime minister is ordained.

The forecasted higher interest rates must come if inflation is not seen to be retreating towards the magical 1% to 3% range.

A recession is feared if interest rates are raised excessively and Treasury's half year and fiscal update released in December projected the NZ economy to contract 0.8% over 3 quarters with weaker global growth likely to reduce demand for New Zealand exports.

That contraction could be greater if the interest rate increases are overdone.

Unemployment, which has been consistently low, is forecast by Treasury to increase from 3.3% (Sept 2022) to 5.5% in mid-2024.

Currently there is little sign of a shortage of jobs in New Zealand.

Understandably business confidence is low, especially for indebted companies, facing higher borrowing costs, higher prices, and higher salary demands.

It would be surprising to see companies pursue Initial Public Offerings of shares under current conditions. Debt offers might be the more palatable alternative.

Established listed companies that provide people's 'needs' rather than 'wants' can be expected to be more resilient in a recessionary environment.

Household budgets will prioritise paying for the necessities of modern life such as shelter (mortgages from banks, rates from council), food (supermarkets and other suppliers), electricity (power generators and retailers), fuel (big oil), and telecommunications (internet access and cellular services) before other expenses.

Discretionary spending obviously retracts when inflation bites.

This does not mean that there would not be opportunities in other sectors especially when eventually economic indicators improve. Markets do try to look well ahead.

Institutions and fund managers with large sums of other people's cash are likely to be waiting for shares in companies in a variety of sectors to get to levels they see as attractive before investing. A well-funded buyer is positioned well to take advantage of distressed businesses that have potential to survive and thrive in better years ahead.

The election later in the year may increase regulatory risk for various sectors, depending on what policies are introduced, maintained, or repealed by whichever party, or parties, are in power afterwards.

I am not going to try to guess the outcome of the election.

Inconveniently, the election adds more uncertainty to potential investment outcomes.


The first listed company announcements have started to trickle in for the year with two growth companies in the health sector providing announcements to the exchange in recent days.

Pacific Edge (PEB) provided its quarterly investor update. Its cancer-detecting products saw test volumes rising 36% in the three months to the end of December 2022 compared to the same 3 month period in 2021.

Volumes were flat compared to the previous quarter (3 months to September 2022) reflecting a slowdown from Thanksgiving to New Years seen in other years.

The PEB share price remained unchanged with low trading volumes seen this year so far. Its price aspirations relies on exponential growth in the use of its products.

Fisher & Paykel Healthcare (FPH) announced full year 2023 revenue guidance of $1.55 billion to $1.60 billion noting that hospital hardware revenue continues to exceed pre-pandemic levels as the company responds to COVID-19 surges. For the second half of this financial year FPH currently estimates the relative proportion of its Hospital sales between hardware and consumables will be similar to the first half.

Those hoping for FPH to announce rapid growth expectations will be disappointed but should be encouraged that FPH is in better shape than before the pandemic and is not anticipating deterioration from guidance provided in November 2022. The FPH share price climbed following the release.



Investment Opportunities

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Edward will be in Nelson on 17 February, and Napier 23 and 24 of February.

Chris will be in Hamilton to see clients on Tuesday, February 21, venue to be advised.

David Colman will be in Palmerston North on Wednesday 25 January and in Lower Hutt on Thursday 26 January.

Johnny will be visiting Tauranga on February 22, seeing clients at the Mt Maunganui Golf Club. He will be visiting Christchurch on March 22, seeing clients at the Russley Golf Club.

Clients are welcome to contact us to arrange an appointment.

David Colman

Chris Lee & Partners Ltd

Market News 16 January 2023

Johnny Lee writes:

2023 is now upon us, albeit arriving with a whimper, rather than a bang. For those who disengaged from global sharemarkets over the holiday period, little changed over the two week period.

Both company news and trading volumes were muted over the holiday period, a far cry to the crazed events observed two years ago.

The 2021 Christmas period was notable due to the unusual trading seen from overseas investors in our listed electricity companies, as ''green'' funds abandoned all logic and moved share prices to never before seen levels in an attempt to rush through trades at a time when sellers were more concerned about cricket than their stock portfolio.

These investments were effectively unwound months later, as the funds realised their mistake and sold out with equal abandon, locking in losses at much lower levels, leaving behind hundreds of millions in lost value, and more than a few baffled traders. The poor souls holding units in these funds will likely be oblivious to the true cause of their lost value.

This year, we have instead seen modest gains in a number of growth stocks, with the likes of Fisher and Paykel Healthcare, EBOS, Fletcher Building and A2 Milk outperforming the market. Indeed, there was a noticeable correlation between share price performance and the various ''broker picks'' across the media.

EBOS Group, which has not experienced an annual decline in over a decade, remains popular on these lists. Infratil is another that rarely experiences underperformance relative to the market, and features heavily on these lists.

Investors, on average, would have seen modest gains over the holiday period, on light volumes and with little relevant data to support the moves. With reporting season beginning in less than a month, the period of relative quiet is likely to end soon.

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Meanwhile, Central banks around the world have spent the holiday period focused on tempering expectations, in what will likely be the biggest determinant of sharemarket performance this year.

Both market pricing and media commentary from business leaders have made it clear that financial markets do not anticipate interest rates being maintained at current levels long-term, or indeed even short-term.

The prevailing view remains that inflation has become disinflation (prices still rising, but at a slowing pace) and will soon require interest rates to return to lower levels to ensure it does not fall below the target rate.

Market pricing is public information, and is clearly indicating that markets expect rates to head lower as early as next year. Inflation signals remain inconsistent, but, at the very least, the pace of inflation does indeed seem to be slowing.

US Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell joined the Bank of England and the European Central Bank in highlighting their collective counter-view that inflation will remain stubbornly high for some time yet, necessitating a period of high interest rates that may last longer than market pricing might suggest.

They cannot both be correct. Investors looking to hedge their bets will be looking for opportunities to lock in strong long-term rates, while avoiding those that look opportunistic or poor value.

Powell's interview also covered two other interesting topics.

The first was a fierce defence of Central Bank neutrality.

I have written previously about a growing trend among politicians to attribute blame for economic woes onto Central Bank bankers. When rising interest rates lead to soaring mortgage repayments, and the flow on effects of this, political popularity will be hard to come by. Goats will be scaped.

Our own Reserve Bank spent many years warning against excessive levels of debt around the country, warning that perpetually low interest rates should not be assumed by those borrowing to purchase housing, particularly in Auckland and Queenstown. Some listened. Some did not.

Reserve Banks are not beyond reproach. In New Zealand, we operate a committee structure that ensures that any errors can at least require the oversight of more than one man. Theoretically, these committees can be comprised of the best and brightest of our economic minds, capable of weighing up the advantages and disadvantages of actions and choosing the path most likely to achieve its mandate. Its job is not to maintain political popularity.

With New Zealand now in an election year, and with the economy front and centre, it seems inevitable that some on the political fringes will seek to blame the Reserve Bank for the resulting rises in mortgage costs. Indeed, the headlines last year describing Orr as ''engineering a recession'' were clearly aimed at eliciting a response, rather than educating readership.

Net savers, and those who chose to defer purchasing a house for fear of future unaffordability, will be rewarded during this time. Those recent buyers in neither category will be enduring hardship, a hardship that is likely to continue for some years.

With a large proportion of New Zealand's mortgage debt rolling over in 2023, families will need to make the decision of locking in short-term rates in the hope that rates fall (market view) or locking in longer term rates fearing rate hikes being sustained (Central Bank view).

The other discussion from Powell was a response to criticism of a recent climate change initiative, whereby banks were effectively asked to stress-test their balance sheet against certain climate change scenarios. This was viewed by some as an overreach, who view climate change concerns to be beyond the remit of central banks.

Powell argues that the consequences of climate change could dramatically impact asset prices, and therefore the stability of our financial system. Banks, lending over such assets, were asking to value these assets using certain assumptions, and report the findings to the Central Bank.

Climate initiatives, including ESG considerations, are much more controversial in the United States than the rest of the world. In New Zealand, they remain the fastest growing style of investment, particularly in the Kiwisaver space. In the United States, efforts are instead being made to ban pension funds from including ESG considerations, although this appears to be driven by political expediency rather than any economic viewpoint.

The direction of interest rates will be a key driver of sharemarket performance this year. Weakening inflation and any suggestion of falling interest rates will spur markets higher, while continued pressure on consumer pricing will likely send the market lower.

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2023 promises to be an interesting year for many of our major listed companies.

Both Chorus and Vector will have announcements to make early this year.

Vector will be outlining its plans following the conditional sale of its metering business and the receipt of approximately $1.7 billion in net proceeds.

The company has already flagged its intention to reduce debt levels, which have climbed steadily over the last 6 years. Gearing has also gradually increased to near 60%, with net debt around $3.3 billion.

Reducing debt as interest rates rise has become increasingly popular over the last two years, with the likes of Spark also electing to reduce borrowings following the sale of its TowerCo assets. Vital Healthcare has also hinted that the company will look to sell down its portfolio to retire debt, focusing on development margins to drive shareholder returns.

Chorus will likely continue its long-awaited (and long priced-in) increase of dividend. While the company has been careful to maintain a ''subject to change'' clause, 2023 should mark the year in which the company begins to fully reward its long-term shareholders following the wind-down of the fibre network rollout. While the lack of imputation credits diminishes the value of this increase, this will likely present only a medium term challenge for the company.

Both of these companies report next month.

The tourism sector will be another to watch, with the likes of Auckland Airport, Sky City, Air New Zealand and Tourism Holdings hoping that 2023 brings more favourable conditions than 2022.

The aged care sector will also be looking for conditions to, if not improve, at least stabilise. This remains one of the most depressed sectors in the market, with most expecting any recovery to be years, rather than months, in the making.

Pacific Edge and A2 Milk also begin the year with a lot to prove, as shareholders wait for distractions to resolve and the companies to focus on revenue, profit and shareholder returns.

And, of course, the retail sector will be under close scrutiny, as wallets tighten and consumers ''batten down the hatches''.

Market conditions will be very challenging for even the most skilful business leaders this year. Weak companies will struggle, as debt grows, growth becomes more difficult to achieve, and shareholders begin demanding a return on investments.

The days of ''free'' money, it appears, have ended.

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Edward Lee will be in Auckland on Wednesday 18 January (Wairau Park), Thursday 19 January (Ellerslie) and Friday 20 January (Auckland CBD).

Edward will be in Nelson on 17 February, and Napier 23 and 24 of February.

I will be in Christchurch on January 24/25, accompanied by our newly-appointed adviser Fraser Hunter, and will be in Ashburton on January 25 (pm) and in Timaru on January 26 (pm).

I will be in Hamilton to see clients on Tuesday, February 21, venue to be advised.

David Colman will be in Palmerston North on Wednesday 25 January and in Lower Hutt on Thursday 26 January.

Johnny will be visiting Tauranga on February 22, seeing clients at the Mt Maunganui Golf Club. He will be visiting Christchurch on March 22, seeing clients at the Russley Golf Club.

Clients are welcome to contact us to arrange an appointment.

Johnny Lee

Chris Lee & Partners Ltd

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