If blowing its credibility and losing
hundreds of millions of dollars wasn’t enough for Multiplex to handle, it’s now
suffering the prospect of ongoing negative headlines as investors are treated
to asset “fire sales”.

They started in Saturday’s Oz:
“Multiplex is believed to have embarked on a 200 million pound ($476 million) fire sale of unprofitable development
projects in Britain in an attempt to shore up its balance sheet and
secure the confidence
of its lenders.”

And it’s rolling on today with the Smagecatching up, and suggesting the Roberts family might buy back the construction business, while The Oz reports that the sell-off has begun with
a pair of British billionaire brothers bailing out the troubled construction giant
by agreeing to buy out its share of a huge building portfolio in a deal
estimated to be worth more than pound stg. 100 million ($236.3 million).

In fairness, one person’s “fire sale” is
another’s “asset disposal opportunity”. Multiplex flagged the latter in its
interim results announcement on Thursday: “The Group is currently evaluating
various asset disposal opportunities, both to third parties and to newly
established Multiplex funds, in order to further strengthen liquidity and
provide additional working capital.”

The trouble for Multiplex, or rather, one
of the troubles for Multiplex, is that every move it makes for the next year
will be reported as crisis management. Thus its attempts to spin up a better
outlook last week went nowhere.

Perhaps it is at least fortunate that
everyone is concentrating on the Wembley disaster and what that’s done to the
company’s liquidity. Attracting less comment was the line in its results that
it had written down the value of its NSW residential housing development
inventory by $18 million in the December half.

That write-down is at odds with the
ever-hopeful residential property cheer squad that is trying to talk up a
property bounce after a couple of swallows were sighted in Sydney. Good luck.

Peter Fray

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