Newcrest Mining has confirmed that meetings were held with investment bank analysts in the days before a corporate restructure on June 7, but the company continues to insist it did not breach market disclosure rules in those meetings.
Confirmation that briefings took place before June 7 came as Newcrest appointed former ASX chairman Maurice Newman to review the company's disclosure performance.
Newcrest's relationship with certain analysts has been under scrutiny recently after the company's share price fell by close to 15 per cent in the 72 hours before the restructure announced on June 7.
The company has long defended itself against claims it gave "selective briefings" to some analysts before June 7, a claim that does not deny meetings, but does deny giving sensitive information to preferred investors.
Speaking to media on Tuesday, CEO Greg Robinson gave the clearest statement yet about analyst briefings before June 7.
"There were briefings, there were discussions with analysts as our investor relations group does on a regular basis," he said. "They do that under the policy, procedures and standards we have in the company, and ... we don't think they've done anything incorrect; we think they've done the job they are meant to do."
But Mr Robinson said he would not be revealing the names of analysts briefed. Analysts from Citi, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, UBS and Credit Suisse published research notes on Newcrest in the days before June 7, most of which predicted a more modest future for the company under a lower gold price and a changed company strategy. Many of the predictions proved true on June 7.
Some analysts have told BusinessDay they were not briefed by Newcrest in the days before June 7, so it is unclear how the company's claim that there were no "selective briefings" will stand up after Tuesday's confirmation that some briefings did take place.
Dr Newman's review will be separate from investigations under way from market regulators at the Australian Securities and Investments Commission and the ASX.
Mr Robinson confirmed that ASIC and the ASX had sought information from Newcrest, but the company had not sacked any staff on the back of the controversy.
When asked why he had not waited for ASIC to deliver its verdict, Newcrest chairman Don Mercer said he commissioned Dr Newman because the board wanted to know of any problems within the company as soon as possible.
"We cannot stand by and watch a slow methodical review by a third party take place. If there is an issue here we need to know what it is and deal with it. We don't think we've done anything wrong.
"However, there is such a to-do about it ... we feel independent advice to ourselves would be very, very valuable," he said. Dr Newman said he held about 30,000 shares in Newcrest and would be paid for his investigation. But Dr Newman and Mr Mercer said they had not yet decided how much he would be paid.
"We greatly value Dr Newman's contribution and we will remunerate him appropriately, but we've got to find out just exactly what volume of work this [involves]," Mr Mercer said. Apart from his time at the ASX, Dr Newman has served as ABC chairman and worked in the tertiary education and investment banking sectors.
Australian Shareholders Association spokesman Stephen Mayne said the review was better than nothing.
"A pro-active approach by the board is to be welcomed and Maurice Newman is well placed to conduct such a review, but I do think the excessive focus on disclosure detracts from the real issue, which is dreadful performance and the need for board and management accountability for the billions that have been lost," he said.
Mr Mayne repeated his call for Mr Mercer to stand down as chairman, saying a better response would have been to find a new chairman.
Shaw stockbroking resources analyst Vince Pisani said Mr Newman could be trusted to do the review properly, but investors were unlikely to buy into Newcrest until more was known about the multiple investigations.
Mr Mercer conceded the issue was affecting Newcrest's share price, which has continued falling through June and lost a further 10 per cent of its value over the past two days. Starting the month above $15, the stock was worth just $9.30 at the close of trade on Tuesday.
"There has been a major downgrade [on] just about everything to do with the gold sector. I think it's also fair to say that our share price has come off relatively more and precipitously relative to others and to that extent I'm afraid we do think this flurry of concern about corporate governance has a big contribution to make to the difference between general market and ourselves," Mr Mercer said.
Law firm Maurice Blackburn is considering a class action of Newcrest shareholders, and the firm's principal Jacob Varghese said the review was unusual.
"We are continuing our investigations into Newcrest. It is an unusual move by a company to publicly announce their plan for an investigation by a third party and to make the findings public. While this is not unprecedented, it is not something we would commonly see," he said.