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Banking and finance briefs: Mortgagee sales down; Westpac's carbon push;

Banking and finance briefs: Mortgagee sales down; Westpac's carbon push;
1. Mortgagee sales ease - Mortgagee sales fell in February, Terralink International says, in the first year-on-year fall since November 2007. Terralink says there were 121 mortgagee sales in February down from 124 in February 2009. On a seasonally adjusted basis February showed a 30% decline from January. 2. Westpac's carbon push - Westpac says it wants to be the first New Zealand bank to offer carbon trading and has written to 600 forestry industry representatives to discuss the option of dealing carbon credits through Westpac. 3. More bond sales - The Debt Management Office quietly announced late last week that it had increased the government's bond issuance programme for 2009/10 by NZ$2 billion to NZ$12.5 billion, which (coincidentally) equals NZ$240 million per week. This has been the number used daily by Finance Minister Bill English to describe the size of the government's borrowing. The DMO cited market demand. The 2010/11 bond issuance programme will be announced on May 20 with the budget. 4. First home subsidy tax break - Finance Minister Peter Dunne announced quietly late on Friday that KiwiSaver members who qualify for the first home subsidy will not be taxed on the subsidy.
The subsidy provides for $1000 for each year of contribution, up to a maximum of $5000 and is administered by the Housing New Zealand Corporation. The rule change making the first home deposit subsidy a social assistance suspensory loan for tax purposes was made by Order in Council on Monday 26 April.
5. We're off - Bayleys principal David Bayley and managing director Mike Bayley are flying to Asia this week to discuss the sale of the 16 Crafar farms with possible buyers in China, Singapore and Hong Kong, the Sunday Star Times reported. Michael Stiassny from Korda Mentha is currently trying to sell the farms on behalf of bankers Westpac, Rabobank and PGG Wrightson Finance. 6. First Mis-Step - Rob Stock from the Sunday Star Times reports that the Commerce Commission has reopened its investigation into Money Managers' First Step trusts. This follows information being passed to the Commission from Money Managers Action Group, an investor group coordinated by Auckland businessman John Simmons.
Simmons said the group had assembled complaints of more than 50 Money Managers clients who despite having conservative risk profiles ended up with their money sunk into highly risky used car loans and a geothermal development project. Among the allegations is that though investors in the lowest risk of the four First Step trusts, the Secured Mortgage Trust, started out with a fund that was limited to investing in mortgages, it was progressively allowed to extend into far riskier assets and Money Managers failed to tell investors about the changes – in breach of securities law.
7. Wishful thinking - Tim Hunter at the Sunday Star Times reports detail from South Canterbury Finance's fresh prospectus which points out it wants to sell up to NZ$180 million of equity in a stock market float to help recapitalise the struggling South Island rural and property lender.
Despite its explicit appearance in company documents, chief executive Sandy Maier played down the prospect, saying it was one of several options being considered. "It's not a definite commitment or plan or else we would say `hey, the following operations are going to take place'," said Maier. "It's a credible assumption, but it's not a plan."
Curiously, Stock also pointed out an apparent assurance from the government that it would rewrite the tax rules to ensure South Canterbury held on to its deferred tax losses as an asset that would count under Reserve Bank rules if its ownership changed.
The detail of the plan was critical to the company's finances because a significant change of ownership could wipe out a deferred tax asset of $82m – an asset that kept South Canterbury on the right side of solvency at the end of December. The asset was so crucial, Southbury had obtained written confirmation from Treasury and Inland Revenue that the government planned to rewrite the tax rules, allowing South Canterbury to retain the $82m even if the capital raising went through.
This was first published this morning in our Daily Banking and Finance newsletter, which is for our paying subscribers. Find out more here.

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