IF THERE was a prize for the most gutsy little company in Australia, it should go to Balcatta-based Atlas Pacific. If you want to talk high risk, try pearl farming in Indonesia. Atlas has its hatcheries on Waigeo Island at the extreme western tip of Papua (formerly Irian Jaya), 2000 km from Jakarta.The nearest town is the regional capital of Sorong some 82 nautical miles away. Just the sort of pollution free spot, well away from all the violence, to lease 2,500 hectares of water capable of supporting one million oysters.However, In the early hours of October 25 last year, the pearl farm was raided by armed thieves.The senior Indonesian manager was shot and killed and another employee wounded. According to the managing director, Lucian Peterson, the company considered giving up. Instead, it has doubled security and carried on.Throughout all of this, Atlas has continued hatching pinctada maxima oysters which produce South Sea pearls. Last year, the yield from the oysters doubled with 48,443 pearls sold in Sydney to mainly Japanese buyers. The company has projected net profits to increase from $2.5 million last year to $7.7 million in 2004-based on the crop cycle. Atlas shares, which remarkably have a NASDAQ listing, are thinly traded at 20c, valuing the company at $11 million. Not one for the super fund perhaps, but trading on a forward multiple of less than two-times earnings, they could prove a pearl of an investment.
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