Dud run from media after Macquarie in 2003

By Stephen Mayne
February 13, 2008

This story was sent to Crikey subscribers the day after the 2003 Macquarie Bank AGM.

Crikey must be losing his touch. After raising about 10 different issues over 5 stints at the microphone at the Macquarie Bank AGM yesterday, the board seemed not at all concerned and we ended up shaking hands and chatting with no less than 5 different directors after the meeting.

The press were pretty underwhelmed with the event although it was good to see all three of the Sydney-based gossip columnists, Angus Grigg from The AFR, Michael West from The Australian and Christine Lacy from The SMH, appear to have stayed for the duration.

If only the business commentators got out to events like this as Macquarie Bank is Australia's most issues-rich public company and you do pick up plenty of insights by attending.

Unsurprisingly, Crikey's contributions to the meeting did not crack a mention anywhere, although some of the responses did.

The AFR carried the following line: "Mr Clarke rejected calls from shareholder activists (not sure who the other one was) to consider stepping down as executive chairman, a position that brought the founder a total pay packet of $2.9 million last year."

And The SMH carried the following line as Clarke responded to a Crikey question about the security of those huge performance fees they pull out of the world's biggest tollroad company, Macquarie Infrastructure Group:

"Mr Clarke said it was a theoretical question that Macquarie's fees on its investment funds would come under pressure. UBS has estimated that Macquarie has earned more than $700 million in gross performance and base fees from the tollroad owner Macquarie Infrastructure Group in six years."

We were very surprised that no-one bothered to report Clarke's explanation as to why he'd taken out some put options over his $20 million Macquarie Bank shareholding.

Rather than this suggesting Clarke thought the stock would tumble, he said it was done because he needed to take out a loan to buy a new house. Fellow directors Laurie Cox and Mark Johnson have taken similar downside protection which have been voluntarily reported to the ASX.

The house lender got security over the stock with no downside whilst Clarke retained the upside which is looking like a wise move as Macquarie shares gained a further 8c today hitting a 13-month high of $30.68.

Finally, it was interesting to see PR trouble-shooter Anthony McClelland loitering at the meeting. We suspect he might have been helping out the Nardell coal mine creditors but the lad wouldn't be drawn. A quick google search brought up the following Fox Sports story about his client list:

"It emerged yesterday that Souths faction leader Nicholas Pappas had hired an image consultant who has been known to charge $3000 a day to help their cause. High profile "crisis manager" Anthony McClelland will help guide their fight for control of the football club. The former Seven news and current affairs chief has in recent times defended the likes of 2UE's John Conde during the cash-for-comment fracas, Trinity Grammar during the sexual abuse scandal and FAI's Rodney Adler."

Whilst the Nardell creditors got up in several different guises, the best histrionics came from a Yankee lawyer who took up 20 minutes of the meeting basically asking whether Macquarie had guaranteed Nardell's trade creditors. It was one of the most over the top performances we've ever seen, extending from spelling out his name and then reading from the NSW Crimes Act about prison sentences.

There was one question from someone aligned to the sacked Macquarie executives Bell and Berg who quoted from a John Lyons story on Sunday which chairman Clarke dismissed as "very unbalanced and biased reporting".

And the battler who dominated last year's AGM, aggrieved agriculture infrastructure developer Brian Locke, scored a confidential settlement with Macquarie on Tuesday this week. Hush money perhaps?

Crikey's favourite moment of the meeting was the big cheer that accompanied our sledge of notorious shock jock Alan Jones when we asked the board for a reassurance they would "never sell out to the Parrot" by sponsoring his program or paying for live reads.

Let's hope they'll hold the line.