Merry Christmas to all! What a rollicking good year it was. Let us present the 2013 gongs for high achievement in the corporate arena.
The inaugural award for Utter Shamelessness in Begging for Corporate Welfare was a hard-fought affair. The car makers have always got their paws out for a subsidy or three. Neither did Cadbury let a 64 per cent rise in profits to $75 million deter it from pocketing a $16 million taxpayer grant. And Qantas, well, putting around the hat in Canberra one year on from a share buyback and the grounding of an airline – that’s flair.
But the banks pick up the gong this year thanks to the gifting of a $380 billion ”committed liquidity facility” – a euphemism for bail-out fund – by the Reserve Bank.
The Babcock and Allco Prize for Financial Engineering was a lay-down-misere. It goes to Duet Group for a deal which was so unnecessary it was breathtaking.
Duet, which runs power assets, unveiled its “Group Simplification Proposal” to pare back its throng of corporate entities from six to just four. The catch was that Duet had only increased the number of Duet entities from four to six a few months earlier via its fee-chomping “Internalisation Proposal”.
But there was method to the madness. The ”Simplification” generated a tidy $5 million “Simplification Fee” for AMP and Macquarie – on top of the $96 million they picked up last year for surrendering their management rights in Duet’s “Internalisation Proposal”. Naturally, there was a few million for the lawyers, accounting firms and assorted experts to boot.
The Wyatt Earp Award for Regulatory Excellence goes to the corporate watchdog for its audacious raid on the perpetrator of the Whitehaven coal hoax.
Rather than fritter away public resources chasing the plethora of corporate heists being blithely staged in the office towers all around it, ASIC sent out a crack team in January to raid the campsite of a lone greenie in the bush.
This dangerous fellow, Jonathan Moylan, had wickedly issued a fake ANZ media release claiming the bank had pulled a $1.2 billion loan from Whitehaven’s Maules Creek project. A fake media release rather than a real media release! Imagine that, the nerve of the man!
The Marc Rich Prize for Services to Taxation is a tough choice. Google and Apple perennially pay close to zero in tax on their billions in revenue. But it was hard to go past Sydney Airport this year, which celebrated its 10 year anniversary in style by not paying one red cent in tax. That’s 10 years on the trot, a peerless achievement. Yes, it is a trust structure and therefore it is incumbent upon the members to pay the tax. But do they?
It is symbolic that Ronnie Biggs died this week, for it is time to honour the nation’s most brazen racketeers – the insolvency practitioners.
PPB is always a robust contender in this category, and again performed well in running up the costs of the Lehman Australia estate to around the $80 million mark.
But the Ronnie Biggs Award goes to FTI Consulting, which earned this elegy from a Queensland judge: ”Extravagant waste of members’ funds”, ”sniping and argumentative” affidavits, sending ”misleading” statements to creditors. ”My view is that they have preferred their own commercial interests to the interests of the fund,” wrote Justice Jean Dalton of the Supreme Court.
In a triumph of pettifogging, the solicitors for FTI filed an affidavit of over 800 pages … “that was of such marginal relevance that it was not referred to in either written or oral submissions by any party”. In insolvency, they call this “surpassing the industry standard”.
Which brings us to The Bondy Award. FTI presides over the estate of LM Investment Management, whose impresario is none other than the tanned Kiwi Peter Drake.
It was with panache that this titan of the Gold Coast was not only discovered to have lent himself $46 million from the LM mortgage fund business before it went belly up, but then he somehow managed to dodge bankruptcy and – breezy as you like – booted up a new insurance business down the road.
We had the privilege of being sued by Peter. Alas he walked away from his defamation action – we had scurrilously accused him of being greedy – just a few days ago.
The Ok Tedi Prize for Services to the Environment and Sustainability goes to AGL, which has devised an ingenious solution for the disposal of its waste water from its coal seam gas project at Gloucester. It plans to dump 37,000 tonnes of salt onto the Avon River catchment over 15 years.
There is a most excellent opportunity in this for the champion of the project, the NSW government. Once the river and surrounding farmlands are parched waste, they can erect a casino among the saltbrush – sorry, make that an “integrated resort complex”.
Finally to the Related Party Transaction of the year. Computershare flogging a business valued in its accounts at $US51 million to a company 44 per cent owned by its chairman Chris Morris for $US12 million had a certain elan about it. Yet it is hard to go past QBE and its mysterious reinsurer Equator Re. Lest you thought ring-a-ring-a-rosy was child’s play, this mercurial Bermudan entity – financial bona fides unknown – not only reinsures QBE but also provides guarantees to QBE’s banks for billions in letters of credit.