Have your say: Greg Muir defends Hanover's peformance
15th Aug 08, 10:38am
Last night on TV3's Campbell Live Hanover Chairman Greg Muir defended the performance of the board of Hanover Finance. He also said shareholders Mark Hotchin and Eric Watson would put up "tens of millions of dollars" to help rescue the NZ$554 million of investments owed to 13,000 New Zealanders by the Hanover group. This was Muir's first television interview since Hanover was frozen last month. Muir said a moratorium and restructuring plan was before the trustees and would be put to debenture holders at a meeting in late September or early October. "It is our intention to try and get back every cent for Mums and Dads," Muir said. Asked if the returns would be better than the 15-50 cents in the dollar expected by Bridgecorp investors, Muir said: "We certainly hope so," Muir said. "The quality of our assets is much better. There is no hint whatsoever of any impropriety by anyone inside the company." "This is about liquidity. It's about our ability to get the property market moving again and start to deal with some of these assets," he said. Asked about criticism of Hotchin and Watson's decision to take dividends out of Hanover in the last two years, he said: "Over the last two years, NZ$72 million of dividends have been paid. NZ$70 million has come back into the business to retire related party loans, so there has been almost no cash gone out of the business to those shareholders at all." "Cash is the real issue. This is a liquidity crisis in the industry and globally. Had they been paid no dividends our cash position would be exactly the same," Muir said. Asked about the related party loans to companies owned by Hotchin and Watson, he said: "As at the end of June the related party loans are about NZ$60 mln and every single one of those loans was at normal commercial terms and at arms length." Asked if there had been any discounts given to Hotchin and Watson, he said: "Absolutely not. I remember on one occasion Mark saying 'you guys are charging me more than I could have got ... it's higher than that other guy in the book.'" Muir was asked if he was happy to stake his reputation on the performance of Hanover and that of shareholders Watson and Hotchin. "I have seen absolutely nothing in my time around the board table to lead me to believe that the company was managed in a bad way. Quite the reverse. The executives we have are outstanding. We have a wonderful general counsel who has given very conservative legal advice and we have followed that advice to the letter," Muir said. He was also asked how much of their own money Watson and Hotchin had at stake and how much they would put forward in a rescue plan. "The shareholders decided at the time we were considering this freeze that they would support the company over and beyond the NZ$50 million of equity they have in the business. It's not as if these guys don't have their own money at risk. They have NZ$50 million of their own equity in their business," Muir said. "NZ550 million in anyone's language is an enormous sum of money and that is the equity they have in the business," he said. "They as part of the plan that we have in front of the trustees right now, and will be unveiled to our investors within the next three to four weeks, will have tens of millions of dollars more from them supporting the business as we got through the recovery plan," he said. "I can't with certainty say that the plan will be voted for, but we believe that the support the shareholders will putting behind the plan will be far and away greater than any other entity in the finance industry and will clearly demonstrate their committment to it, and to seeing it through to the end and doing the best we possibly can to get Mums and Dads their money back." Muir, a former chief executive of The Warehouse and the current executive chairman of Pumpkin Patch, has been criticised for his role at Hanover. Bruce Sheppard of the NZ Shareholders Association was particularly trenchant in his blog on Businessday.co.nz , in which he said Muir had lent his strong brand to Hanover and should pay back his fees.
So Greg, come clean. Front up to this mess for the time you have been on the board. Perhaps even as a gesture of contrition, pay back your fees. Assuming you want to try and avoid the Hangover by staying out of the public light, then I say to the board of Pumpkin Patch: " Brand Muir" is caustic manure and you should dump him and quickly." To the bond holders of Hanover and to trustee Guardian Trust, I say, do not give this company any rope, push it under now. Get liquidators in and pursue the remedies available. Hotchin and Watson must be removed from having any ability to take ma and pop money or even from having the use of it under a moratorium for a moment longer.What's your thoughts on Muir's comments last night? Is it correct to say Watson and Hotchin are heavily exposed personally when they have NZ$50 million of equity in Hanover but have borrowed NZ$60 million back from the business? That sounds like a net negative NZ$10 million position with security over sections at Jacks Point in Queenstown thrown in. Should Hanover (and others) be given time for the property market to stabilise?