James Hardie’s board deserves some sort of award for perverse achievement in pipping AWB to become the company least trusted and most disliked by the commentariat. Tax dodging and killing your own beats Iraqi kickbacks and defrauding the UN.

Yet despite all the evidence, the market still seems willing to take James Hardie management at its word, Hardie shares jumping yesterday against further indications that the US housing market is slowing very fast.

Even the conservative Terry McCrann has had enough of Hardie and Meredith Hellicar:

Chairwoman Meredith Hellicar made two things absolutely crystal clear yesterday. Absolutely unintentionally.

First, the Federal Government should send the company packing with the proverbial flea in its ear over its demand for a permanent tax holiday for the fund to compensate its workers it sentenced to a long and lingering death.

Secondly, Hellicar has to step down as chairwoman and step down immediately and leave the board. She has been there too long, on too many counts.

McCrann blames Hellicar for changing his stance from agnosticism on tax concessions for the proposed asbestos victims compensation funds:

No way can this company be given any further relief by Australian taxpayers. Inadvertently, Hellicar demonstrated it had a warped entrenched corporate culture — all but announcing, approvingly, that it was a global tax wh-re. Sleeping, in a corporate sense, wherever it got lower tax.

She left me in no doubt. Hardie should be told it made its tax and asbestos beds and must lie in them.

In the Smage, Elizabeth Knight knifes the board for its tax and compensation dodging tactics failing to work while Ean Higgins in the Oz goes for outrage over turning the company over to Americans while pointing a finger at Hellicar’s intriguing “grilling” by ASIC over the asbestos fund.

But never mind any of that. Amidst the asbestos victims protests, the reversal of last year’s stance on more than doubling directors’ fees, the inability to settle the compensation fund and the failure of its Netherlands move, James Hardie yesterday confirmed its August profit guidance despite the deteriorating US housing market so its shares rallied.

But overnight there was more hard evidence of the American housing crash. US housing starts fell 6% last month to their lowest rate in more than three years, making it six falls in seven months. Home builders’ sentiment is at its lowest level in 15 years. In July the US had a record inventory of 3.86 million unsold homes.

But the market believed James Hardie’s assurances that all was fine. And the move to the Netherlands had nothing to do with getting clear of asbestos compensation either. Amazing. 

Peter Fray

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