So remember everyone saying how hard done by Hubbard was

August 6th, 2014 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

When the Government assumed control of Allan Hubbard’s companies, they were attacked by many in South Canterbury, and beyond. Hubbard was a saint who could do no wrong, and Simon Power was savaged for agreeing to statutory management.

Now Hubbard was a well intentioned individual, but as the Herald reports, his financial management was deficient in recent years:

Allan Hubbard, the late boss of South Canterbury Finance, which collapsed and required a $1.6 billion government bailout, “had little interest” in meeting accounting or legal requirements, and three of his most trusted colleagues went along with the massive fraud, a court has been told today. …

Long-time SCF chairman, Timaru financier Mr Hubbard, who died in a September 2011 car crash, aged 83, ignored various accounting and legal regulations that he was bound to adhere to, the court was told.

One witness described Mr Hubbard’s attitude as being, “Trust me, I know what I am doing”.

“The evidence has been that he had a disdain for disclosing related party transactions, a peculiar view of what constituted one, a penchant for swapping cheques to cleanse the accounts … and took assets off the balance sheet if they were impaired,” Crown lawyer Colin Carruthers QC said. …

The Crown says that on July 25, 2007, the defendants prepared a letter to Mr Hubbard expressing their concerns with the business practices.

“That is an extraordinary document, setting out a long list of issues directly relevant to these charges, from related party advances, the single entity exposure limit, advances being made without security, loan and drawdown authorisation, and so on,” Mr Carruthers said.

But despite the concerns, nothing changed, Mr Carruthers said.

A decision in the trial is due in October.

 

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NBR v SFO

October 20th, 2010 at 2:12 pm by David Farrar

The NBR reports:

The Serious Fraud Office served the notice on NBR yesterday, demanding documents and audio tapes relating to the paper’s investigation of South Canterbury Finance’s dealings over Auckland’s Hyatt Regency Hotel. The deadline for delivery was 9am today.

The Serious Fraud Act Section 5 notice requires NBR editor-in-chief Nevil Gibson to hand over all written and audio notes relating to Mr Nippert’s investigation of the Hyatt Regency, specifically the NBR exclusive story of how one-time meatworker Peter Symes came to own the hotel.

The NBR story by Nippert may be what led the SFO to focus on SCF. It was an excellent story about how the Hyatt in Auckland was officially owned by a retried freezing worker.

The SFO has incredible powers to demand documents. They were given them to use against the bad guys doing the fraud, not against the good guys who helped expose the alleged fraud.

A polite request to NBR for information would be more productive than a section 5 notice.

So far NBR has decided to risk adverse legal consequences:

The National Business Review is in a standoff with the Serious Fraud Office after the SFO this morning refused an invitation by NBR publisher Barry Colman to attend a meeting with the paper.

The SFO instead warned that NBR had been in breach of its statutory obligations under the Serious Fraud Office Act since 9 am today.

The SFO has demanded editorial files relating to NBR’s investigation into the collapse of the South Canterbury Finance group of companies and yesterday threatened its journalists with jail and fines for non-coperation.

The NBR called for the meeting to seek reassurances that its co-operation with the SFO would not lead to further fishing trips for information that could compromise the paper’s confidential sources.

It does look like the info demanded will eventually be provided:

The SFO’s request related to already published material that the paper has no objection to supplying as no confidential sources were violated.

But NBR is seeking an assurance from the Serious Fraud Office that it will not invoke its draconian powers of document seizure in return for NBR’s co-operation into the SFO’s investigations in the South Canterbury Finance collapse.

Mr Colman said today the initial information sought by the SFO had already been published and its release would not violate the confidentiality of any NBR sources.

So NBR are saying yeah we can give you that info but we don’t want to be seen to assenting to further info which will compromise sources.

Mr Colman said today the SFO’s blatant intimidation was appalling and counterproductive.

“We are not the enemies of the SFO. We want the bad guys investigated as well,” he said.

“However, no news service is going to be able to get crucial information from its sources or whistleblowers if they face public exposure. We have taken legal advice and been told the act is so draconian that it is impossible for us to refuse to co-operate without risking serious penalty.

“We have decided to hand over the material they are asking for today because it doesn’t compromise any of the sources of Matt Nippert, the reporter who carried out the investigation.

Good on NBR for not rolling over without protest. If Barry does end up in jail, I’ll smuggle in an iPad to him!

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Imperator Fish on South Canterbury Finance

September 10th, 2010 at 2:27 pm by David Farrar

Imperator Fish is a lawyer. He leans to the left, but has always been a fair critic.

He has gone through all legal deeds about South Canterbury Finance, which were posted on Red Alert. Trevor Mallard has shown his legal skills are as excellent as his diplomatic skills and concluded it is all Bill English’s fault, and Bill has cost the taxpayer $300 million.

If you wish to take your legal advice from Trevor, then can I suggest you hire him to negotiate your purchase of the Auckland Harbour Bridge, which I have exclusive sale rights to.

Here is what Imperator Fish has found and concluded:

The Crown unquestionably had a legal obligation to pay out New Zealand depositors. This is unarguable. When SCF went into receivership, Bill English had no choice but to write out a cheque. Had he not done so the Crown would have been sued en masse by investors, and would have lost and been ordered to pay costs. The same business commentators now savaging Bill English for paying out investors would then be calling him a fool.

Including Trevor no doubt.

Some in the media and blogosphere have suggested the terms of the guarantee deeds may have been breached, and that this meant payment didn’t need to be made. Some go on to say that the fact payment was made proves this is just National looking after its mates. Wrong. It’s quite possible that breaches of the deeds occurred and should have been detected, and that the detection of such breaches may have enabled action to be taken to limit the Crown’s liability. But prior breaches do not affect the Crown’s liability to pay.

Important to note.

There was no obligation to pay overseas investors, as Bill English has himself admitted. He has said paying them out enables the Crown to take control of the receivership. It may seem unfair that some people are getting the benefit of a guarantee not designed for them, but the alternative is to risk getting much less during the receivership. English’s position on this matter is at least defensible, and may in fact be financially prudent.

One may have ended up with years of litigation, if some investors were excluded. An extra $20 million, to gain full control seemed worth doing.

SCF had a number of obligations under the deeds, including the obligation to conduct its business and operations in a proper, businesslike, efficient and prudent manner, and the obligation not to engage in related-party transactions. Any breach by SCF of those obligations would give the Crown the right to withdraw the guarantee in relation to future deposits only.

This is what many people do not realise. Once the guarantee is in place, you can’t punish the investors for the sins of the company.

IF does want an inquiry though:

I stand by the move to pay New Zealand depositors, because legally any other position would have been utterly indefensible. The decision to pay overseas depositors can at least be debated, though I understand the reasoning behind the move.

But questions remain about the role of Treasury and others in this. Could SCF’s troubles have been detected earlier? Could the Government have avoided paying out some of this money?

This needs a public enquiry. A huge amount of money has been paid out, and the decisions of those involved should be scrutinised. If it turns out they have acted entirely properly, then they will have nothing to fear.
I am not against an inquiry, but I think it is too early for it now. The SFO is still investigating Aoraki, and the Statutory Managers are also sorting through things. Possibly once both those entities have concluded their inquiries, then one can look at whether we would benefit from an inquiry into everything.
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Bernard Hickey’s open letter to Allan Hubbard

September 2nd, 2010 at 9:45 pm by David Farrar

This may be Bernard’s best post ever. It should be pinned up on every South Island noticeboard. Some extracts:

Dear Allan Hubbard:

Please say sorry and thanks.

Please say sorry to the taxpayers of New Zealand and investors in South Canterbury Finance who now have to bear the burden of cleaning up your mess.

Please say thanks to the Finance Minister Bill English, Prime Minister John Key and the millions of taxpayers who are now having to pay for your mistakes.

Please say sorry to the South Canterbury Finance preference share holders who have lost all of the NZ$120 million they invested with you on the strength of your reputation.

Please take responsibilty for the mess created by the boom and now bust of the South Island’s largest financial institution.

Please appear in public yourself to answer questions about what happened at South Canterbury Finance.

Please don’t leave it up to your wife Jean, your PR advisors and your supporters to defend you in public. Please understand the scale of the damage done or your role in it.

Please be the humble man who does not shirk responsibility and cares deeply about your community that you are reputed to be.

Please don’t publicly attack the government, the Statutory Manager, your fellow directors and anyone else who criticises you and then refuse to answer questions in public.

Please show some humility and some concern for the wider community. Please don’t be more worried about your reputation than the impact on the business community or the public accounts of the nation. …

Please explain why you chose to repeatedly lend to related parties of other companies and interests that you either personally owned or controlled.

Please explain why you represented an equity injection in 2009 as a real injection of fresh money when it was nothing more than a merry-go-round of assets for shares.

Please explain why you refused to be interviewed or engage with the financial press in any meaningful way for years.

Please explain why you thought making interest free loans to young farmers to buy overpriced land was a prudent way to run a business.

Please explain why you chose to run so many businesses yourself without any outside scrutiny. A search of Companies Office records show you were or are a director and/or shareholder in 552 companies. The attached spreadsheet shows there are 1,690 companies registered from your offices at 39 George St, Timaru.

Please say sorry for saying repeatedly that South Canterbury Finance was a ‘heartland’ financier of rural businesses when it actually lent more than NZ$100 million to a luxury Auckland hotel redevelopment, the building of townhouses on Paritai Drive in Auckland, as well as to bars in the Viaduct. Please explain why you thought lending money to property developers in Queenstown who were unable to find funding was a good idea.

Please explain why there was so much related party lending between your companies and South Canterbury Finance and why you thought this was OK.

Please explain why you allocated NZ$13 million in shares to investors in Hubbard Management Funds that Grant Thornton has found in its second report did not exist.

Please explain why you reported to investors in Hubbard Management Funds that you had NZ$6 million in cash on hand when Grant Thornton said you actually had NZ$350,000 in cash.

Please explain why in March this year you had to mortgage your own assets to ensure you had enough cash to pay the interest on investments in Aorangi Securities. Please explain why you thought this was a legitimate thing to do and why you thought you should have been allowed to continue to do it for the entire group without outside scrutiny. …

Please explain why you believe you could say this in June this year and believe it: “I don’t believe in the history of New Zealand that any person has acted more honourably than myself”

Most of all Mr Hubbard. Please acknowledge the pain you have caused your investors and the taxpayers of New Zealand.

Please say sorry and thank you.

Regards

Bernard Hickey

I’ve said it before. Good intentions are not enough. Bernard has forcefully summarised the many unanswered questions, and how all we get in response is attacks on others.

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Armstrong on SCF

September 2nd, 2010 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Just caught up with John Armstrong’s column from yesterday:

Watching John Key and Bill English dispose of South Canterbury Finance yesterday was a bit like watching a python swallowing an antelope.

Except it all happened a lot quicker.

The Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance must have swallowed hard at the prospect of forking out $1.6 billion under the Crown Retail Deposit Guarantee Scheme.

They had no choice. But they did have plenty of warning of the likely receivership. So the Government was ready with a plan.

That involved wrapping its jaws around the company, swallowing it whole and spitting out anything which might have stopped it becoming the sole creditor.

That way the Government is now calling the shots, even though the failed company is technically under the control of receivers.

So good marks for the Government. And Labour:

Otherwise, this was one of the smoothest crisis-management operations conducted by this Government.

It is on such days that the Opposition is better off displaying bipartisan support.

Phil Goff, instead, took the line that the firm might have traded its way out were economic conditions more favourable. It was the Government’s fault that was not the case.

This line is truly hard to swallow given South Canterbury Finance’s difficulties sprang from the heady boom times in the property market when Labour was in power.

Goff would have been better advised to have said nothing.

One of the challenges of Opposition is to hold your tongue and not try for cheap publicity on every issue.

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Editorials on SCF

September 1st, 2010 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald:

In the end, South Canterbury Finance was not, as some had predicted, too big to fail.

The Government, quite correctly, resisted the temptation to support the recapitalisation of the country’s second-biggest finance company, consigning it to receivership. …

There was, however, no point in keeping South Canterbury Finance afloat. Bad governance and loan practices have destroyed a once strong brand.

The Press:

South Canterbury Finance’s decision to call in the receivers yesterday had an inevitability about it. …

But the investor repayments, and the fact that the receivership process means there will be no fire sale of assets or fast call-in of loans, should limit the economic, and perhaps political, fallout. This might otherwise have been more serious at a time when the economy is still fragile, a strong reason for the Government to act.

The Dom Post:

The failure of South Canterbury Finance is a tragedy – for founder Allan Hubbard, for South Island businesses and for taxpayers who must now make good the deposit guarantee made by the last government.

Mr Hubbard, 82, is no Mark Hotchin or Rod Petricevic. There are no multimillion-dollar mansions, flash cars or luxury yachts lurking in his cupboards. He lives in a modest Timaru bungalow and drives an ageing Volkswagen Beetle.

However, the $1.6 billion SCF owes investors is roughly three times the amount Mr Hotchin’s Hanover and Petricevic’s Bridgecorp each owed investors when they collapsed. …

It is time for the loyal band of letter-writing supporters who believe Mr Hubbard can do no wrong to bite their tongues. Their hero is decent, generous and well-intentioned. Earlier this year he put family assets worth more than $150m into SCF in an attempt to shore up its balance sheet. Those assets have now been lost.

The interim report of the statutory managers appointed to run his affairs, plus those of other companies and charities associated with him and his wife, Jean, suggests the acumen that made him the South Island’s richest man has deserted him. …

Many will wonder why the last government ever agreed to guarantee the deposits of investors who went looking for higher interest rates in finance companies. The answer is that both Labour and National, then in Opposition, considered the guarantee the lesser of two evils. Better payouts than the total collapse of the financial system. They may have been right, but the payouts announced yesterday still stick in the craw. This is not what we pay taxes for.

The Dom Post is on the money. It is easy in hindsight to say that one should not have had the guarantee scheme, but in late 2008 the wordl financial system was on the brink of possible collapse, and pretty much every OECD country did much the same as a stability measure.

The ODT:

But with SCF’s investors largely covered by the guarantee scheme, the Government chose to see it go into receivership at least in part so that it could have some degree of control over the impact of the company’s failure on the core South Island economy – and so the fallout could be managed, as far as possible, in an orderly manner.

SCF may be regarded as the biggest single South Island casualty of the recession, and without the greatest care by the receivers and the principal debtor – the taxpayer – the long-term consequences may be a chief cause of slowing the economic recovery.

Everyone in the South will hope that prospect can be avoided.

On the brighter side, some sensible reduction of rural land prices may eventually result from this failure, just as it appears to be occurring in the urban property market once the speculative bubble burst.

None of the four editorials are saying the Government should have stepped in to stop receivership, which is what some were urging.

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The SCF payout

September 1st, 2010 at 9:11 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Yesterday Mr Hubbard condemned the Government for preventing him working to save South Canterbury by placing his affairs under statutory management two months ago.

This, he said, was “a body blow” for the company.

But Prime Minister John Key said the global recession and the company’s poor-quality lending had “taken us into the situation we’re in today”.

If the gap between assets and liabilities is $500 million, then the collapse was probably inevitable. Mr Hubbard would be well advised to reflect on his own role in costing taxpayers such a huge amount of money, rather than seek to blame those picking up the pieces.

Mr Key said the Government’s finances could handle the payout and credit ratings agencies had assured the Treasury it would not have any immediate effect on the country’s credit rating.

Although the sum involved would appear large to struggling taxpayers, “it is relatively small compared to other losses the Crown has incurred with the deterioration, for instance, in ACC”, Mr Key said.

Sad but true.

Opposition Leader Phil Goff said yesterday’s payout was “a huge cost to the taxpayer for the ordinary Kiwi who’s struggling to save for him or herself”.

“Having to bail out the investors of South Canterbury Finance will come as a huge burden.”

Mr Goff said the company’s fate was “sealed by the Government’s failure to get a proper economic recovery”.

Oh what a pathetic statement. You just look desperate and irrelevant when you come up with such tripe and nonsense.

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SCF goes into receivership

August 31st, 2010 at 9:50 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

South Canterbury Finance Limited announced today that it has been unable to complete a recapitalisation and restructure.

As a result, the Company would have been unable to certify to Trustees Executors Limited, in accordance with the terms of its debenture trust deed with Trustees Executors Limited, that it was compliant with various financial covenants under the debenture trust deed for the financial year ended 30 June 2010.

Accordingly, South Canterbury Finance Limited has requested Trustees Executors Limited to appoint a receiver in respect of the whole of its undertaking and assets, and Trustees Executors Limited has done so.

This is not the end of the road – it means TEL now has control of SCF. However it strongly indicates that the Government’s guarantee of deposits will be called on.

Personally I am pleased the Government didn’t attempt a King Canute.

Bernard Hickey writes:

The government’s decision not to support a recapitalisation plan for South Canterbury Finance was the right one. Receivership was the cleanest, simplest and ultimately safest option for both taxpayers and investors.

The government will now have to pay out around NZ$1.6 billion to 35,000 depositers in South Canterbury Finance that were covered under the extended guarantee scheme.

They have already paid out today $1.7 billion. Ouch. However some of that will be recovered over time.

It was clear from Prime Minister John Key’s comments yesterday about the administrative and institutional mess inherited by CEO Sandy Maier that he was no fan of the way Allan Hubbard had created and run the business as part of his own charitable small business empire.

Hubbard was making no interest ‘helping hand’ loans to young farmers and then mortgaging his own assets to make the interest payments.

Which is well intentioned. But he lent too much bad money, and in the end he has left the taxpayer with the bill. That is not generosity. Allan Hubbard is not the victim here – the taxpayer is.

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Should the Government bail out SCF?

August 30th, 2010 at 8:10 am by David Farrar

Bernard Hickey is one of the few voices arguing that the Government should allow South Canterbury Finance to go into receivership:

But now the government faces an urgent decision between putting South Canterbury into receivership now, or putting in yet more taxpayers money in the hope it can survive and then thrive past the end of the government guarantee.

The choice is a difficult one. The immediate pain from a receivership would be substantial.

Receivership would trigger a payout to investors under the government guarantee of around NZ$1.7 billion. Some believe that shock to the government’s finances would be enough to trigger a review of New Zealand’s sovereign credit rating downgrade by Standard and Poor’s and/or Moody’s.

I don’t believe it would be enough to justify a rating review, but if it did that would immediately increase wholesale interest rates, which would eventually flow through to the entire economy. There is also the fallout on the South Island rural economy.

Any receiver would force through sales of farms, property developments and small businesses, many of whom are not paying the interest on the loans received from South Canterbury Finance. Dairy farm prices in the South Island could potentially take a big hit. Some believe this could send a new chill through the South Island that eventually cost jobs and stunt any recovery of economic growth. That’s because the Australian-owned banks are unlikely to step in to take over the loans.

This is the potential cost of letting it fail. It may be quite huge. It’s easy to just say “let them fail”, but that will mean a large payout by the Government, and a hit to the South Island economy.

South Canterbury Finance does not have a future beyond the end of the Deposit Guarantee. To have such a future, it would need to substantially increase its credit rating, find a new funder and convince already sceptical investors to go naked in backing the finance company without a deposit guarantee. They will also have to do it without their talisman Allan Hubbard, who will be long gone as owner and maestro.

At some point New Zealand’s dairy farming sector, particularly in the South Island, will have to reduce its debt.

When that happens it will be painful.

But as many investors in finance companies such as Strategic, St Laurence, Hanover and Dominion would attest, giving finance companies more time to ‘work it out’ and wait for the ‘market to bounce back’ is often worse than pulling the plug immediately. The New Zealand government faces a bail out decision in the same way Hanover Finance investors did 8 months ago and 12 months before that.

This is the crucial test – can SCF survive in the future if bailed out. Some compare it to Air NZ, which has thrived after a bail out. But there is a major difference between deciding to fly on an airline, or lend money to a finance company.

David Hillary also argues SCF should not be bailed out:

SCF is not a successful business, and it does not have a successful ‘good bank’ to salvage. The damage to SCF’s brand is total, SCF has been selling its best loans, and encouraging its best customers to re-finance elsewhere for probably a year now, leaving it with few good assets left. Its asset origination and management systems and personnel are the problem, and it is what needs to be closed down, not saved. …

SCF’s governance, leadership, culture and practices have been and are so bad that the company’s problems are pervasive, and this means that its liquidation value is likely to be higher than trying to keep it as a going concern.

Whatever the Government decides is going to be pretty unpopular.

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