Press Coverage from the meeting
December 18, 2009
By James McCullough
Mayne wants in YOUR diarist thought former journalist, onetime owner of Crikey and now shareholder activist Stephen Mayne was about to say he was at the historic NAB AGM in Brisbane yesterday to ``keep the bastards honest''. But no, that particular line did not come from Mayne's mouth. Rather he said he was standing for election as a director of the bank because he vehemently objected to the bank's recent capital raisings, which he said severely disadvantaged retail investors and benefited institutional investors.
Mayne, who City Beat reckons got more airtime at the AGM than the NAB chairman, Michael Chaney, told shareholders that his standing for the board position was a ``last resort'' because his crusade to promote what he considered to be unfairness in the recent capital raisings fell on deaf ears.
Mayne confided that he had applied to sit on the board of 40 companies recently, and last week obtained 1 per cent of the total vote to try and get elected to the board of Ten. ``I am hoping I get a slightly larger margin here,'' he told shareholders.
Lack of ATMs - a few syllables into his question to the NAB board yesterday there was no mistaking that shareholder Andrew Gray hailed from the home of Robbie the Bruce, Scotland. Gray, aged 76, had driven several hundred kilometres to front the board for a very simple reason: ``I want an ATM in my town.'' Gray has perhaps appropriately retired to the sleepy NSW town of MacLean, population 4000, and there is nary an ATM in sight. ``I have phoned and written and I got this letter back from the bank which was arguably the silliest letter I have ever received from anyone,'' Gray said, with just that hint of Billy Connolly.
He was not alone. Another shareholder wanted to know why the town of Dubbo, population 40,000, did not have an NAB automatic teller machine. Chairman Chaney said the bank had increased its ATM coverage and he was sure Dubbo now had one or two ATMs, and that he would get the relevant people to look at the situation in the town of MacLean.
Re-elections set ONE of the more interesting facets of the NAB AGM yesterday was a bit of a spiel directors gave to convince shareholders they should be re-elected. It is, of course, nonsense, given the institutions have already elected the directors and the retail investors have little say on balance whether they get there or not.
Nonetheless we heard Paul Rizzo give a rousing ``brief'' chat about his curriculum vitae and why he should be elected to the board, informing us that he had started with the bank in 1966. Director Michael Ullmer confided that, as a Pom, he came to Australia in 1979, was now chairman of JB Were and gave his Foster's directors fees to charity.
The best line came from the Kiwi among the bunch (of course). John Waller, who chairs BNZ and other Kiwi companies, also just happens to be the head of the Eden Park Redevelopment group, the home of rugger. He is preparing Eden Park for the next World Cup, and volunteered that, ``I cannot guarantee that the All Blacks and the Wallabies will be in the final but I will do my best''.
He and the other directors were of course re-elected.
A nice earner AND the last word on the AGM that your diarist had the privilege of attending for over four hours yesterday, including the pre-AGM shareholder briefing . .
NAB executives decided it would be appropriate this year to have two journalists, Nine's Ross Greenwood and the ABC's Peter Thompson, ask questions of the chairman and the chief executive before the commencement of the annual meeting. This, according to Chairman Chaney, allowed more shareholders to ask more questions and was tremendously innovative. Greenwood and Thompson, neither of whom bothered staying for the AGM, clearly thought so as they jetted back down south with some interesting Christmas spending money.
Anyway, Greenwood and Thommo condensed 900 questions into about 100, asked a few hard questions and left. The thing was that despite the early morning questioning session the AGM still ran for nearly 2 1/2 hours.
December 18, 2009
Opportunity knocks for our largest bank
By James McCullough
NATIONAL Australia Bank, the country's largest, is investigating mergers and acquisitions, or even offloading its British operations in the troubled UK market. NAB chief executive Cameron Clyne told shareholders at the company's annual general meeting in Brisbane yesterday that the UK and New Zealand markets had not performed well for the bank.
However, he said the Clydesale and Yorkshire banks had remained profitable and had not required British Government bailout packages.
Mr Clyne said there had been significant consolidation in Britain, and there was more to come.
``We have been approached by a number of players in the UK to see how we could participate,'' he said. ``These approaches indicate that in our Clydesdale and Yorkshire banks, we have a high-quality asset that is an attractive platform for participation in UK market developments.''
Mr Clyne said the group was exploring and assessing how these approaches could benefit the bank and its shareholders. He did not say NAB was considering selling its British operations, but rather would consider all offers and opportunities moving forward.
It was the first time NAB has held its AGM in Brisbane, as part of its decision to offer shareholders around the country greater access to the bank, although NAB was very shy on its Queensland aspirations. Asked whether NAB had been talking to Suncorp about the Queensland group's banking or insurance operations, Mr Clyne offered a blunt ``no comment''. ``That is market-sensitive,'' he said.
NAB chairman Michael Chaney said the bank's future direction was dependent on increased presence in business banking and wealth management, hence the proposed $4.61 billion acquisition of AXA's Australasian operations. He said AXA would likely be consolidated under the MLC NAB brand and offer a valuable base for the wealth management business. MLC and AXA were among the most trusted brands in the country, and on the heels of NAB's Aviva acquisition AXA was a good fit for the bank.
During the 2 1/2-hour AGM, the bank board came under heavy criticism from shareholders for its remuneration for executives and NAB's recent capital raisings. Some shareholders argued the raisings had favoured institutional, rather than retail, investors.
Stephen Mayne, a shareholder activist who unsuccessfully stood for election to the bank's board, said NAB raised $3.2 billion through an institutional placement in December and another $2 billion via a placement in July, and retail investors were severely cut back.
Mr Chaney said at the time the bank needed $3.2 billion and the institutions had committed to the bulk of the raising. ``Your comments indicate a lack of understanding about how the bank runs,'' Mr Chaney said.
``I cannot accept your comments or inference that there was some sort of neglect toward retail investors by the board.''
Mr Chaney, along with directors Paul Rizzo, Michael Ullmer, Mark Joiner and John Waller, were all re-elected to the bank board.
After the AXA Asia Pacific bid yesterday NAB shares closed down $1.30 at $26.65.
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