Newcrest problems under rug

Maurice Newman agrees with Don Mercer. Newcrest has done nothing wrong.

Maurice Newman's report into the Newcrest (NCM) earnings downgrade debacle may not have surprised anyone but it will do nothing to soothe the anger of investors.

While not exactly a whitewash, it provides an avenue for Newcrest to paper over the gross ineptitude that led to the disastrous write-downs and its bungled attempt to gently inform the market of the impending doom.

To conclude that the board and management have acted appropriately at a company that has seen so much of its value evaporate after the absurdly expensive and unnecessary takeover of Lihir will be correctly determined as an insult by investors.

Then there is the haphazard manner in which the information was disseminated; via a series of briefings with analysts that led to a dramatic fall in the share price for a full week before the downgrades were announced.

It may well be that the process was conducted within the constraints of the laws around continuous disclosure. But it is impossible to escape the obvious conclusion that some investors were better informed than others (see Tim Treadgold's Digging down into the Newcrest cave-in).

Newman's independent report was conducted at the behest of Newcrest chairman Don Mercer. A more than capable banker, executive and director with a rich history in corporate Australia dating back to Bain and Co then Deutsche and as chairman of the ASX, Newman's integrity is beyond question.

But even he highlighted the flaws in his review; he was unable to interview the analysts with whom the briefings were conducted.

And right from the day the internal probe was announced on July  25, Mercer made it clear that Newcrest believed all was above board.

"We don't think we've done anything wrong," he said. "Let's be quite clear about that."

Whether the Australian Securities and Investment Commission agrees is another matter altogether. Already it has begun sitting in on analyst briefings.

The big test for Newcrest, however, will take place in the courts, when the expected onslaught from class actions over the debacle finally get underway.

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