There is a certain irony about Macquarie Bank warning against new financial regulations, when only six years ago it was begging the government for help, writes Ian Verrender.
Q. What are the two greatest weapons in a businessman’s arsenal?
A. Chronic memory failure among the broader community and a compliant business media.
Macquarie boss Nick Moore used both to full effect last week when he issued a dire warning to David Murray, the man heading the inquiry into the future of Australia’s financial system.
Think twice about imposing new regulations on our banks to protect taxpayers from a collapse, Moore warned. Such regulations could backfire and cost the nation dearly.
Missing was any hint of the frantic desperation of six years ago as Macquarie careered out of control, under siege from an army of steely eyed traders betting the bank would go down.
The panic took hold just a few hours after the collapse of Lehman Bros on September 15, 2008. What did Moore and his executives do? They went begging for help.
But you’ll never see or read the juicy details of emails found under FOFA They’ve been suppressed.
According to Treasury, should the contents of those emails or meeting notes ever come to light, they “could reasonably be expected to adversely affect the Macquarie Group”. Heaven forbid!
Macquarie was saved. And so began the myth that the Australian financial system somehow was better and stronger than the rest of the world, that it alone survived the great global financial crisis where all others failed.
It is a myth now being employed as a dangerous argument as to why Australian banks should not be subjected to the kind of controls now being considered by global regulators.
The bank’s share price plunged from about $98 to $15.75 as short sellers attacked what they believed was a mortally wounded beast.
Between them, they borrowed more than $120 billion under the taxpayer AAA guarantee with Macquarie accounting for about $20 billion. They now make a song and dance about having to pay a fee for the privilege – as though bank fees somehow are a foreign concept.
Mortgages on overpriced Australian real estate accounts now total about $1.3 trillion, 40 per cent of that sourced from offshore debt markets.
According to ratings agency Moody’s, mortgages account for about 65 per cent of all bank loans. Hardly what you’d call a diversified portfolio
No wonder bank executives are worried.