Liam Dann 's Opinion

Liam Dann is the business editor of the NZ Herald

Liam Dann: Allan Hubbard owes New Zealand an apology

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Hubbard supporters march down the streets of Timaru. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Hubbard supporters march down the streets of Timaru. Photo / Sarah Ivey

His supporters have written public letters to the Government calling for Allan Hubbard to be treated more fairly. Business Herald editor Liam Dann, a fellow Cantabrian, responds.

Allan Hubbard owes New Zealand an apology. Whatever happens from here it is clear that his failure as a businessman has put hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars at risk.

In the context of the enormous constraints on public spending we face in areas like health and education this is an appalling financial mess that Hubbard has ultimately left the taxpayer to clean up.

Cries from his supporters, that if he'd been left in charge it would all have been alright, no longer ring true.

Put the probe into his personal financial entities to one side. The real story is South Canterbury Finance - the $900 million liability hanging around the taxpayer's neck. That was his baby.

Hubbard lost control of that company earlier this year after it had breached its trust deed. He was removed from the board and given the sentimental title of President for Life.

By that point the Government had already effectively decided the company was too big to fail. That is the only sane reason it could have been allowed it to stay in the government guarantee scheme when it was extended.

So Hubbard's debenture holders were given the luxury of a state guarantee - despite the fact that some of the lending this company did was every bit as convoluted and risky as that of other failed finance companies.

Sandy Maier, who has a reputation as the most skilled corporate fix-it man in the country, is now in charge and frankly appears to have worked magic just to keep it alive this far.

He divided the assets in to three piles, the working businesses, the good loans and the bad loans.

The bad loan "bank" is up to its neck in $600 to $700 million of debt on assets that may yield as little as half of that when they are realised.

When it is euphemistically said that South Canterbury failed to "stick to its knitting" it is the bad bank that people are talking about. That is also the bit that no white-knight investor wants to touch - so it threatens to sink the whole company. To put it in context, it is a bigger failure in its own right than Hanover.

The irony is that because South Canterbury is also a major lender to many productive agricultural businesses it is in danger doing far more damage to the national economy than the likes of Hanover ever could.

It is a great shame that Allan Hubbard - and the South Canterbury management team he put in place during the last days of the property boom - did not stick to their knitting.

But they didn't and they were caught out like everyone else. It is a tragedy that fantastic business story that is Hubbard's career should be so tarnished.

Allan Hubbard is clearly a nice man. It would be surprising if the Serious Fraud Office finds anything of a criminal nature in his accounts. He appears to be a man of honour and integrity.

If this is the case and he wishes to salvage what is left of his reputation he needs stop being so proud and accept what has happened.

His supporters are doing him no favours by encouraging him to fight back at the Government and the designated officials. They are working now to do what is best for the taxpayer.

As it becomes clearer just what this business collapse will cost each of us we can expect public anger to grow. Support for Hubbard already looks parochial. As the embattled community of Timaru continues to back him it will become embarrassing. If Hubbard really cares about his community he should take responsibility for this mess and spare them that.


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Liam Dann

Liam Dann is the business editor of the NZ Herald

Liam Dann is the Business editor of the New Zealand Herald, overseeing all our business content in print and online. He has been a journalist for 20 years, covering business for the last 14 of them. He has also worked in the banking sector in London and travelled extensively. His passion is for Markets and Economics, because they are the engine of the New Zealand economy.

Read more by Liam Dann

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