Big four exposed to Hastie collapse

AUSTRALIA'S big four banks face write-downs totalling almost $250 million in the wake of Hastie Group's collapse into receivership at the weekend.

AUSTRALIA'S big four banks face write-downs totalling almost $250 million in the wake of Hastie Group's collapse into receivership at the weekend.

ANZ is the lead lender in a consortium that also includes Commonwealth Bank, National Australia Bank, Westpac, Bank of Scotland, Ulster Bank, HSBC Australia and HSBC Middle East.

That syndicate of banks is owed an estimated $500 million, sources close to weekend negotiations over Hastie's future said. That debt is a 50:50 split between loans and bonds.

In total, ANZ is believed to be owed $150 million. Commonwealth Bank, with $20 million, has the smallest exposure of the Australian banks. "The other two, Westpac and NAB, fall somewhere in between," a source close to the negotiations said.

The corporate regulator is now assessing claims that a $20 million "accounting irregularity" is in the books of one of Hastie's Queensland divisions. Discovery of that $20 million black hole scuttled a refinancing deal with the banks.

"We've sent the matter to ASIC," the chief executive, Bill Wild, said on Friday. "We'll go step-by-step. We're still working on it."

Following Hastie's $150 million December-half loss, and a share price that has fallen from $2.17 to 16? in the past year, that accounting irregularity is worth almost as much as Hastie's entire $21 million market capitalisation. The employee responsible has been suspended and remains on the payroll.

The fate of 2000 other employees was sealed in weekend meetings at the company's Auburn headquarters. They will lose their jobs today as administrator PPB and receiver McGrathNicol try to salvage what they can for Hastie's staff and lenders.

"There seems to have been some window dressing of the books to make a loss look like a profit, and it dates back to 2009," a source said. "Given the problems in the company, and the high level of debt, it was the straw that broke the camel's back."

In addition to the banks, a number of major Australian superannuation funds and investment firms are licking their wounds after Hastie's demise.

Perennial Growth, IOOF Holdings, Schroder Investment, Lazard Asset Management and Mackenzie Financial all hold significant stakes. Perennial Growth, which invests on behalf of a number of superannuation funds, holds 11.23 per cent of Hastie.

Thorney Holdings, the investment arm of the Pratt family, is the second-biggest investor, with 10.6 per cent.

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