Shares in James Hardie plunged 39c to $9.71 this morning after the company issued a de facto profit warning by deferring its third quarter profit result to assess the cost of ASIC’s broad-brush legal assault. The key words were as follows:

Deferring the release of its 3rd quarter and 9 months financial results will allow the company to review whether or not the ASIC Allegations are likely to have any impact on the company’s financial statements. In this regard, the Special Matter Committee has engaged independent external advisers to assist with this review.

Fighting ASIC and paying the legal costs of all former directors will undoubtedly be an expensive exercise, although insurance policies should kick in if any of them defeat the plod.

Meanwhile, Meredith Hellicar’s estimated $1 million-plus retirement payout after 15 years on the board has generated plenty of headlines.

These retirement schemes – the most generous comprise a pay out of five years your final average board fee – are largely a thing of the past but James Hardie only closed theirs for new directors in 2002.

However, the latest annual report reveals Hellicar was still entitled to a payout equivalent to a multiple of four times her average pay over the last three years.

Having taken over as chairman in August 2004, it was therefore in Hellicar’s interest to hang around until August 2007 to maximise this payment. She was paid $280,000 in 2005-06.

Hellicar will get nothing if she’s deemed to have left over “misconduct” so given the ASIC proceedings, the cleanskin new board has an interesting dilemma. Perhaps, the cheque should be withheld until the court battles are concluded.

For some strange reason, the biggest payouts to non-executive directors have gone to chairs who left in unpleasant circumstances, but former Coles Myer chairman Stan Wallis is the only one who ever handed back the cheque as the following list reveals:

Biggest retirement payouts to non-executive chairs

Stan Wallis: $1.59 million from AMP which he declined to accept

Mark Rayner: $1.46 million from NAB

Charles Allen: $1.17 million from NAB

John Ralph: $1.16 million from CBA

John Dahlsen: $1.04 million from Woolworths

Sir Malcolm Bates: $1.1 million from AMP and he wasn’t even chairman

Ian Burgess: $1.07 million from AMP

Stan Wallis: $1 million from Coles Myer

Meredith Hellicar: estimated $1 million from James Hardie

Stuart Hornery: $992,435 from Lend Lease

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey