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Short memories, and no gratitude

Short memories, and no gratitude

Remember that short-selling ban a few years ago? You know, the one that had the pleasant effect of putting Australia's financial institutions on the protected species list alongside the Abbott's booby and the Bulmer's fruit bat.

The same one that stopped the occasional bank joining the queue behind Lehman Brothers with an appointment to meet its maker.

If we're not mistaken, it was the financial industry requesting, nay, pleading for the ban on short selling financial stocks to be put in place.

But according to the corporate plod's hard-hitting review of the ban released yesterday, the industry has gone away, crunched the numbers and come back exclaiming that the ban in fact cost it money.

"Industry groups were in broad agreement that the greatest costs imposed by the short-selling measures were lost business opportunities driven by the short-selling ban," ASIC noted.

The industry lamented the loss of being able to make "fee income from products brokerage revenues returns from some proprietary trading strategies and revenues from stock lending".

We searched high and low for a word of thanks from a bank in the report: a dedication on the inside cover, or a favourable review from a CEO on the dust jacket about how ASIC's review of shorts was the best read since, well, The Big Short.

Nary a word of thanks for ASIC saving their bacon.

Self-assessment

As for the plod, it gave itself a thorough grilling over the short-selling ban, and delivered itself a slightly hedged thumbs-up.

"Broadly," its conclusion began, "the short-selling measures achieved some of the objectives outlined in this report".

Er, "broadly"? And, "some"? Hardly blowing the trumpet.

Sure, there was the odd unintended consequence: "The ban on short selling may have exacerbated market volatility. It also potentially inhibited price discovery in the market and may have reduced market liquidity."

Fair enough, they were extraordinary times. But then this: "The short-selling measures potentially contributed to a number of other outcomes, which had negative impacts on the efficient operation of the Australian market. These included higher bid-ask spreads, lower turnover and encumbered price discovery."

OK, anything more?

"Negative impacts may have been exacerbated by the length of the period of the Australian short-selling ban compared with those in other highly developed markets."

Um, OK. Is that it?

"As well as its impact on the financial market overall, the ban on short selling also imposed costs on certain participants in the market. The main costs incurred were the costs to implement reporting and other compliance arrangements and the loss of revenue and business opportunities because of the inability to short sell. Some fund managers using alternative investment strategies were significantly affected in this way."

Thumbs up all the way.

Nine's rating

There's nothing like a looming deadline to focus the mind. So while the mandatory games of brinkmanship between lenders to the debt-laden broadcaster Nine Entertainment are all well and good, today is looming as the big day.

Insiders say the start to negotiations being left so late before the debt deadline complicates matters, particularly given the difference in valuations being placed on the business, and increases the risk of Nine being put into receivership.

Down to business

The red and white corporate army will be well represented down south on Saturday when Sydney's Swans take on Hawthorn. No fewer than three Swans directors and property bods will be there, including the LJ Hooker chairman and Folksetone director, Greg Paramor, Moelis & Co director Andrew Pridham and Swans chairman and businessman Richard Colless. Hawks supporters include the chairman of Mirvac, James MacKenzie. Sponsor QBE will be well represented, too, with John Neal and Colin Fagen hosting some brokers. Former QBE chief executive Frank O'Halloran may have vacated the chair, but he has scored a ticket.

No second bite

John Alexander may be inclined to disagree with the independent adviser's fair and reasonable assessment of News Corp's bid to buy James Packer's Consolidated Media Holdings.

After all, when executive chairman Alexander was redunded five years ago from the Packer media empire when it was split into gaming and media assets, only to show up to work the next day, he picked up a $15 million pink slip.

This time he gets nothing except a payout on his 425,000 shares.

Close connections

After a few tough years, it's good to be able to put the past behind you and get on with looking forward.

At least that's what it says in management books and self-help guides.

In truth, getting away from your past is a tad more difficult.

Take BrisConnections, the troubled motorway group from Queensland. Having had a few issues with overly optimistic traffic assumptions, it's got the broom out and hauled in some new advisers to offer fresh ideas, in the form of Rothschild.

Maybe an asset sale here or a recapitalisation there.

Then again, the chairman of BrisConnections is Trevor Rowe.

Who are we to point out that Rowe is executive chairman of Rothschild Australia?

mevans@smh.com.au

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