ASIC chief's cards best played close to home

Chief corporate watchdog Greg Medcraft outlined his case for more federal funding.

Chief corporate watchdog Greg Medcraft outlined his case for more federal funding.

CHIEF corporate watchdog Greg Medcraft has used his opening remarks to the organisation's annual ''summer school'' to outline his case to Treasurer Wayne Swan for a bigger bite from this year's federal budget.

In his first year on the job, Medcraft (pictured) has already been vocal about wanting to ensure that the Australian Securities and Investments Commission does not, again, get a few million dollars shaved off its annual allocation.

He told his audience in Sydney that with superannuation funds under management forecast to top $3 trillion in the next decade, ''This will increase ASIC's regulatory perimeter as more investors come into the system and money invested increases ? Also, a larger financial system will invariably generate more complaints and breaches.''

''With more stakeholders and investment products, ASIC's workload will increase. It will be a key challenge to ensure our regulation is sufficient and remains effective so that overall risk in the system is contained,'' he said.

That is not an explicit demand for more resources, but Medcraft certainly seems to be making the case - not surprising given that the pressure will be on departmental budgets as Swan tries to deliver on his promised surplus.

Insider is not sure, though, that Medcraft will want to draw too heavily on the US Securities and Exchange Commission's recently published pitch for its own pay rise because some of the numbers suggest that ASIC is comparatively well funded.

Where ASIC's allocation was $346 million last financial year, in a nation of 22 million people, the SEC received about $US1320 million to monitor the behaviour in the 50 states of 300 million people.

One way of looking at that is that where the US has about 14 times as many people as Australia, the US corporate regulators receive only about 4.5 times the budget of ASIC.

This year, the SEC is calling for a $US245 million increase to $US1565 million, which would enable it to tack on another 200 full-time equivalent staff.

Clearly the SEC pays a whole lot better than ASIC, given that the budget allocation per full-time equivalent staffer at Medcraft's crew is around $180,000, while the SEC nudged over $US300,000 last fiscal year. The SEC also has about one employee for every 70,000 people, where ASIC has a ratio of closer to one to 12,000.

Where the regulators are not that far apart is in revenue generation - a surprising outcome given the far more litigious US system and some swingeing assets seizures by the SEC.

The SEC reckons that it generated $US2.8 billion for government coffers last year, a return of close to $US2.12 for every greenback invested by President Obama. At ASIC, the comparative measure was closer to $1.80, with $622 million flowing back into Treasurer Swan's pockets.

That is not bad leverage for an argument of increased funding - on top of politicians' fears of declining re-election prospects when ASIC does not pre-empt corporate jackals from preying on unsophisticated investors' life savings.

No-brainer choice of chairNO.1 son of Rupert Murdoch, Lachlan, is copping renewed beatings over the apparent conflict of sitting on the board of the family company and newly-polished chairman's seat at Ten Network Holdings.

The latest anguish stems from weekend pictures and reports of Lachlan joining father Rupert in touring the offices of their UK flagship The Sun, reassuring staff and announcing the unsurprising resurrection of The News of the World as the Sun on Sunday.

While it was interesting to see the (currently) non-executive Lachlan making that tour, it is unlikely to provoke the notoriously reticent broadcasting regulator, the Australian Communications and Media Authority, to demand Murdoch the younger step down from Ten - given that he was chief executive for a year and they showed no signs of queasiness about the crossover.

At any rate, if the pundits are right about Lachlan being in the ascendancy to succeed Rupert (after brother James hacked his own reputation), Insider reckons it is not a hard choice.

Being chairman of Ten only pays $200,000 a year, and Lachlan did not draw a salary while acting CEO, whereas his dad's package as executive chairman of News Corp was worth more than $30 million last year.

At those rates, Lachlan could recover his losses on his $128 million Ten investment, now worth only $82 million, in less than 18 months.

Austin awaits spry boostAUSTIN Exploration was out fracking the market yesterday for a two-part capital raising of up to $20 million for its drilling of the Eagle Ford and Niobrara shale oil plays in North America.

The offering of up to 690 million shares at 2.9? each to sophisticated investors would more than double Austin's shares on issue, although when Insider last looked at its 20 largest shareholders, less than 30 per cent of the equity was being held by the largest investors.

With former Nexus Energy chief Richard Cottee due to become chairman next month, Austin is ramping up the potential of the two prospects that are estimated to each have about 40 million barrels of potential.

Austin would no doubt be hoping for the sort of price rerating enjoyed in the last week by Entek Energy, also focused on Niobrara.

Entek's shares fell below 10? in December, but since last Thursday have soared to finish at 14? yesterday on buckets of volume - yet the ASX has not even raised a query.

Slack regulation? Seems not. Entek's chief executive Trent Spry said the company rang ASX last week when it saw the price and volume lift - only to have the exchange thank them for the call, and tell them it was already aware that Entek had been written up in Alex Cowie's resources tipsheet Diggers and Drillers, and suspected that was driving the activity.

Spry himself was no doubt sweating on the falling price, given that institutional investors who bought into last April's capital raising at 11? and above might want to get out. Instead, many like Acorn Capital appear to have been topping up.

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