This week saw some interesting changes to sharemarket operator New Zealand Exchange's website.
When seeking market information, Stock Takes now has to scroll past news coverage sourced from APN rival Fairfax, but that's only a minor irritation.
What really rankles is that NZX has ended even the most token offering of real time market announcements via the site.
In October last year, Stock Takes pointed out that while announcement headlines went live immediately, there was a 20 minute delay before the entire text was available, something some retail investors told us they resented.
Prices can move a lot in 20 minutes and news stories based on announcements can be written and published online inside that time too.
Last October, NZX's Rowan MacRae argued that the key information in price sensitive information was available straight away to everyone in the form of key points that were included in the immediately available heading.
In hindsight, that was pretty good, given that now you get absolutely nothing and wouldn't even know an announcement has been made until 20 minutes afterwards.
"We've never released announcements to the market without a 20 minute delay," NZX spokeswoman Leonie Gordon somewhat disingenuously told Stock Takes this week.
In fact, she said, having just the headline and little more immediately available "was causing some frustration and confusion for the site users".
Eliminating real time access altogether "actually resolves some of that confusion and frustration" she claimed.
From where Stock Takes sits the frustration level has increased considerably.
As for confusion, well Stock Takes has never been in any doubt that this essentially boils down to money.
As Gordon acknowledged, NZX doesn't want anyone getting access to real time information unless it or the broking houses which are its major owners are getting paid for it.
Over the Tasman, meanwhile, the ASX continues to make pretty good money while making all price sensitive announcements available instantly, in full, for free.
Speaking of delays it was odd to see Contact Energy shares go on a trading halt yesterday pending an announcement by the board of parent company Origin about the BG takeover.
The Contact halt was slapped on by the NZX almost 24 hours after Origin shares went on halt.
In the initial confusion it was assumed that Contact had called the halt. But Contact made it clear that was not the case yesterday. It is sticking to its initial view that the Origin announcement won't be material to its shares.
That's the view held by most in the market who see little value in punting on Contact due to takeover gossip. The outcome of the BG offer is still far from certain. And even if a sale does go through there is still a great deal of uncertainty about BG's intentions for Origin's 51 per cent Contact stake. The NZX has obviously decided to play it safe - although any headstrong investors wanting to have a punt on the meaning of market speculation had plenty of time to place there bets anyway.
Contact shares closed at $9.11, up 1c yesterday.
ON THE RECEIVING END
Belgrave Finance this week became the 20th finance company to fail in two years. The first name on this sorry roll call was National Finance 2000, a used car financier headed by Alan Ludlow.
It turns out there's an interesting link between the first and last casualties of New Zealand's own wee credit crunch.
It appears that at least some of the $22 million or so investors have tied up in Belgrave may have been money salvaged from National Finance.
Auckland man Russell Walls, who was an investor with National Finance, read about Belgrave in yesterday's Business Herald and got in touch to tell us about a letter he'd received in late 2006 from National Finance's receiver Colin McCloy of PricewaterhouseCoopers.
Shortly after National Finance investors received an interim payout, McCloy wrote to them informing them that Belgrave wished to offer them the chance to invest their payouts in their own securities.
In the letter (which was not PwC letterhead), McCloy did point out that neither he, PwC, National Finance's trustee, nor National Finance itself had "any interest or involvement in the Belgrave offer".
Still, McCloy did let National Finance's investors see the offer rather than just letting Belgrave take their chances via other means.
Walls reckons by sending the offer out, McCloy was associating himself and PwC with it, at least in the minds of investors.
"If they'd said put your money in the bank for the time being, at least it's safe or something like that, that would be good advice.
"But to promote Belgrave's offer, and they did promote it because otherwise it wouldn't have been in with their stuff and signed by Colin McCloy, I think is disgusting."
Last week's Tower NZ result appeared to show the company's recovery was still largely on track.
Goldman Sachs JBWere's Rodney Deacon has come to the same conclusion but sees room for further improvement.
Tower's underlying net profit at $20.2 million was a little lower than Deacon's pick.
Among his key takeouts from the result, Deacon noted that the level of management expenses in the investment division remained relatively high. The company blamed frequent changes in the KiwiSaver and PIE regime for this.
However, Deacon said expected restructuring of the division's cost base "will start having an impact on earnings next year" and would add to the momentum the company's health and life and general insurance divisions were showing.
"We continue to believe that Tower is successfully executing its growth strategy and there should be further evidence of this in the second half of FY08 and then into FY09."
Goldman Sachs does not rate Tower as it is acting as broker for Guinness Peat Group in GPG's partial takeover offer at present. GPG has all but secured the additional 15.3 per cent of Tower it was seeking.
Suffice to say Deacon values Tower at $2.80 a share against yesterday's close of $2.23, up 4c.
The first receiver's report on failed Lombard Finance and Investments was unpleasant reading for investors.
It looks as though secured investors will lose at least half of their cash while unsecured investors will never see a cent.
Given how bad the situation is now, you have to wonder how whether it was much better in the days and weeks leading up to the company's failure last month when it was still raising money from the public.
It's an offence under the Securities Act to raise money from investors when your prospectus and other offer documents don't reflect your current position and Stock Takes wonders whether the Securities Commission will be gunning for Lombard and its directors on this basis.
Lombard chairman Sir Douglas Graham resigned within days of the company's receivership but remains deputy chairman at the biggest managed fund in the country, the $13.5 billion New Zealand Superannuation Fund.
Sure the "Cullen" fund job is probably no more than a figurehead type role, but given the mess at Lombard, is Sir Douglas still suitable even for that?
BANK ON IT
Stock Takes hears that some employees of our big Australian-owned banks are getting somewhat peeved at KiwiBank's jingoistic advertising campaign which portrays them as dimwitted enemy occupiers of conquered territory.
KiwiBank chief executive Sam Knowles says it's just parody and all a bit of fun.
One senior executive at one of the big banks pointed out that without the heft of his parent bank, his New Zealand business would have found it much more expensive to secure funding for its local operations on troubled global markets recently.
In other words, if not for the dominance here of the Australian banks, we'd be paying a lot more on our mortgages.
Fletcher Building shares have taken a hiding since the company issued revised profit guidance last week.
Much of the market focus has been on the US Formica business which Fletcher bought last year shortly before things started going pear-shaped in the US housing market.
Morningstar senior equities analyst Nachi Moghe says: "Management seems to have clearly overestimated Formica's earnings and in hindsight overpaid for the business."
However, Formica's earnings were also impacted by unanticipated running costs of US$25 million which management expect to be halved by net year and to disappear by 2010.
Morningstar has "drastically" cut its forecast of Fletcher's full earnings for this and next year, has reduced fair value on the stock to $8.20 and has downgraded the company to Hold.
Fletcher Building shares closed up 18c at $7.78 yesterday.