Export agency thinks small as big cash crunch looms

Australia's export credit agency wrote more loans in the 2013 financial year than the year before, despite almost halving the total amount of taxpayers' funds it provided.

Australia's export credit agency wrote more loans in the 2013 financial year than the year before, despite almost halving the total amount of taxpayers' funds it provided.

In signs the Export Finance and Insurance Corporation may be heeding calls to "reorientate" its focus onto lending to small organisations, just $513.8 million worth of facilities were provided in 2013, compared with $1 billion the year before.

But according to its annual report, the number of facilities supported by EFIC rose to 168 in 2013, compared with 104 the year before. Chairman Andrew Mohl and former chief executive Angus Armour said the lower signings were due to growing risk appetite in the private sector.

"With ongoing capacity constraints in financial markets, many of EFIC's larger transactions in 2012-13 continued to involve clients with better risk profiles than is usual for our business," they said.

The mining sector comprised almost half of its financial assistance, with EFIC's single biggest commitment being a $US150 million loan for the Ichthys LNG project in Darwin. EFIC was among eight export credit agencies and 24 commercial banks to participate in the $US20 billion financing of the project, the world's biggest.

EFIC has been criticised in recent times for loaning to large corporations such as Exxon Mobil and Leighton Holdings, and it was urged by a Productivity Commission report in 2012 to "substantially reorientate" its focus towards small exporters, rather than big companies that can easily source money elsewhere at low interest rates.

At Senate Estimates last week EFIC did not disclose the dollar value of its loan to miner Rio Tinto for its $US5.1 billion Oyu Tolgoi mine in Mongolia. But it did confirm it was seeking a cash injection from taxpayers, after the former government dented its future profitability by extracting a $200 million dividend.

EFIC posted a $22.6 million profit in 2013, down from $26.8 million the previous year.

Its new chief executive, Andrew Hunter, said the agency was seeking fresh capital from the federal government, following breaches of its minimum capital requirements due to the former Labor government's demand for the $200 million payment. Mr Hunter told senators that EFIC's "capital base is lower now ... and we do earn income on our capital, so we would project that our profits will be lower in the future".

The EFIC board includes some of Australia's corporate elite. Mr Mohl is a director of Commonwealth Bank. David Evans, of advisory firm Evans & Partners and Essendon Football Club fame, is also on the board.

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