Is the curtain starting to come down on the model that has made the Millionaire Factory world-famous? Buy, gouge and flick has worked beautifully on deals like Sydney Airport and various tollroads over the years but the extraordinary global binge over the past two years now seems to be creating a few belly-aches.
The SMH gave Macquarie Bank a huge going over on Saturday (feature and break out) about its operating model and risks and then followed up again today with the biggest roll call ever produced detailing the political and public service connections that have been built up over the years.
Reporters Kate Askew and Lisa Murray did a good job but the most feral fund manager refused to go on the record, perhaps reflecting Macquarie’s extraordinary power in the Australian market, when he said:
“When it comes to corporate governance, MIG has never, ever come close to ticking any boxes,” said the fund manager, who owns shares in MIG. “Everyone has known about the appalling conflicts of interest in MIG but it is getting so bad that I don’t know how they will ever raise another cent from the market.”
Even The Independent in London gave Macquarie’s recent stutters a big burst over the weekend, although as is often the case, it was an expat Aussie journalist, namely former Herald Sun and AFR reporter Miranda McLachlan, who put it together.
Still, when you are receiving 70,000 unsolicited CVs a year from wannabe millionaires, it is not too hard to keep a fresh bunch of super-bright graduates coming through the door stoking the creative fires.
This reflects Macquarie’s greatest asset – its brand and the reputation it has for making staff seriously rich. It’s like Google – everyone wants to work there, meaning the recruiters can cherry pick the best on offer. Like Microsoft was to American graduates for years, Australian commerce graduates know there is no faster way to becoming a millionaire in Australia than working for the Millionaire Factory.
The only problem for those getting on the Macquarie pass-the-parcel express now is that it is hard to see where they can take the model from here. Investment banking chief Nicholas Moore, who won a power struggle with Melbourne-based Alistair Lucas a couple of years back, has been driving the global splurge, but his ability to maintain the momentum is now being questioned.
Rising interest rates, poor performance in the offshoots and greater competition for infrastructure assets are all conspiring to take the edge off market confidence – and then you have the constraints on balance sheet capacity. Combine all that with dreadful governance and the blatant use of political door-openers and you have a heady mix indeed.