Hard News by Russell Brown


Debacles and Disgraces

My mum went to one of the last-minute Hanover Finance meetings this week, to hear Mark Hotchin beg for the chance to keep the company out of receivership in favour of a five-year repayment plan. There were two meetings on the Kapiti Coast, each accommodating about 300 people, which gives you an idea of how many retired people in that part of the country are in the hole with Hanover.

There was much said about the $96 million Hotchin and Eric Watson are contributing to a rescue package (that figure being contingent on some controversial valuations) ; and nothing about the $200 million in cash the two men have taken out of the company since they bought it for less than $10 million. That figure being, in turn, nearly half of what Hanover owes its debenture holders.

Although, as Brian Gaynor put it, "Hanover Finance is an absolute disgrace and a dreadful indictment of the country's capital markets," investors like my mum had little choice but to accept the deal as presented.

At her meeting, a man who claimed to have a million dollars tied up in Hanover stood up and congratulated Hotchin for fronting up to investors (Watson was presumably busy at the gym or something) and then shook his hand. Would it be too cynical of me to think that sounded like a plant?

Mum is fortunate not to have had too much money in Hanover. She has more with Money Managers, who also held a meeting to discuss the stinking debacle around that company's First Step trusts, where investors' money was used very strangely.

At that meeting, a retired woman stood to speak and said she had $500,000 at risk in these Money Managers investments, was worried sick and wished she'd never heard of them. Then the company put on lunch for everyone.

At least a quarter of the households in Mum's retirement village have Money Managers problems. These are the people least able to withstand this kind of financial stress; the people who thought they were being prudent and frugal; the people who deserve a peaceful retirement.

They face these problems not principally as a matter of ordinary investor risk, but because of the way Mark Hotchin, Eric Watson and Doug Somers-Edgar have run their companies. In the place of those retired mums and dads, I think I'd be bloody angry.

This missive from the Dim-Post, where Danyl and his correspondents discuss the proper pluralisation of "anus", seems particularly apt.


And on a completely different tip: a French website that has been right about Apple before is claiming that today, the iTunes Music Store will go DRM-free. That is, that Apple has finally made peace with Universal Music, SonyBMG Music and Warner, and will offer their releases, alongside those from EMI and various indies, as 256k AAC files unencumbered by digital rights management.

It's actually the better bit-rate that does it for me: I've virtually been on strike with iTunes apart from EMI releases for some time because the quality is simply not good enough.

If it doesn't all happen today, it seems that it will happen before too long: 256k non-DRM versions of major-label recordings have been briefly popping up on the iTunes Store in recent weeks, including tracks by Warner artist Neil Young.

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