Swiss mutual fund buys a chunk of Pennichuck

A European mutual fund that invests in water resources around the world has quietly bought up more than 5 percent of Nashua-based Pennichuck Corporation, according to recent filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Pictet (pronounced Pick-tay) Fund’s Global Water Fund, based in Switzerland, bought nearly a quarter-million shares (worth roughly $4.5 million) in the utility, representing 5.65 percent of the company. Most of the purchases were over the summer, but as soon as the purchases reached more than 5 percent, it triggered a mandatory filing with the SEC.

The purchases would make Pictet by far Pennichuck’s largest institutional investor. The previous largest investor was TD Banknorth, a Canadian-owned bank, though many of those shares were held in trust for someone else.

Pennichuck is facing an eminent domain battle with the city of Nashua, sparked part by a 2002 agreement to merge with Philadelphia Suburban Corporation, a company that owns water systems throughout the United States and itself was a subsidiary of a French conglomerate. Critics of the merger said they were worried that city would lose control of its water to a company. Philadelphia backed out in 2003 because of the eminent domain battle.

Pictet launched a Global Water Fund in 2002 that invests in all aspects of the water business, from manufacturers of high-tech water purification systems to companies that manage water for municipalities to those that sell bottled water.

Pennichuck CEO Donald L. Correll, said that there is no need to be concerned of some sort of a foreign takeover of the city’s water.

“Pictet is a passive investor that owns an interest in every major water system in the United States. If it was a more activist company, with interest in management, we would take a different view of the matter,” Correll told NHBR Daily.

Pictet was well aware of the city takeover battle before it purchased the company’s stock.

“They had all the available public information – ad nauseum – about the eminent domain matter,” he said. “Obviously they were still interested in investing in us.”

Correll noted that even if the city’s takeover attempt succeeds, Pennichuck will still remain in the water business. It owns a number of water utilities outside the city and also manages water systems for municipalities. — BOB SANDERS

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