AN employee buyout of Forest Enterprises Australia would be possible but would need an outside backer with deep pockets, financial analyst Tony Gray said yesterday.
The Australian Employee Buyout Centre mooted the idea, saying it could save the business and put it back on a sustainable footing.
Centre director Ian Woods yesterday said that before any decision was made about the future of FEA, it would be worthwhile for receivers to talk to staff, unions and banks about the option.
"Research has shown that employee ownership tends to lead to better outcomes for productivity, profitability and longevity," Mr Woods said.
"In a challenging global economic environment, employee ownership can provide a lifeline to businesses that need an injection of capital and fresh ideas.
"It can mean the difference between closure and unemployment or a successful and sustainable future."
The centre said it was yet to have formal contact with the receiver - charged by creditors ANZ and Commonwealth Bank with trying to recoup $216 million - but would do so in the coming days.
Mr Gray said it was doubtful that such a move would be possible for the managed investment scheme or plantation land component of FEA.
Instead, a company would be sought to take over responsible entity status, giving wood lot investors some return for their money.
Gunns has done that with the Great Southern plantations after that company went into administration last year - with wood lot owners losing up to 50 per cent of their investment.
Mr Gray said it would be more likely for employees, management and a private backer to invest in the Bell Bay sawmill and Smartfibre operation.
"They will get sold for considerably less than their book value so I wouldn't rule it out," he said.
Meanwhile, receivers are understood to have had preliminary discussions with the Department of Economic Development, which last month said it could not assist FEA because of concerns of a "substantial" risk to taxpayer funds and uncertainties around the managed investment scheme industry.
There is also speculation that a merger deal with an overseas "industry player" had been precariously close to being signed before the banks called in FEA's debt.