When I first started in journalism way back in January 1989 as The Sun’s stockmarket reporter, The Age’s John Sevior was the main competitor. Sevior was a Geelong Grammar boy who’d previously run for Richmond Council and worked for the blue-blood firm Potter Partners, before taking a big pay cut to pursue a career in journalism.
After a short period covering the markets, Sevior quickly rose up the ranks at The Age and was writing the occasional “analyst” column each Monday before he became one of Media Watch’s first big scalps in a plagiarism scandal.
The Age forced his resignation on 31 August, 1991, but then SMH editor John Alexander kept him on for another couple of years, before he joined sleepy Perpetual Trustees.
Fast forward a decade and Perpetual manages $37.7 billion. Sevior is the all-important leader of the Australian equities team – making him the company’s most important employee and a multi-millionaire.
However, it was a bit of a worry when the world’s most profitable fund manager, as measured by return on equity, decided that a 7% fee increase was appropriate in January.
Then you’ve got question of institutional activism, something Peter Morgan pioneered at Perpetual and took to 452 Capital, but which Sevior has vigorously pursued as well.
He ran a masterful media campaign against Tabcorp CEO Matthew Slatter, but a few eyebrows were raised after he rubbished the company in the press and then lifted Perpetual’s stake from 8.19% to 9.22% on 7 December last year.
It’s all very well to trade a share but when you are the largest shareholder and play the media game, it starts to get hairy. Rebel Sport is a classic example. The media were reporting that the Archer Capital bid might get voted down by Perpetual and two other institutions, so Sevior waded into the market and lifted Perpetual’s stake from 9.62% to 10.66% on 8 March.
Lo and behold, it appears that Rebel’s largest institutional shareholder then abstained on the vote after telling Reuters in February it planned to vote against it. If true, this meant the deal scraped through only because Perpetual directly profited from the market’s belief it would scupper the deal.
Even more concerning is the company’s decision to back cowboy tree-loppers Gunns in a major way, lifting its stake from 13.66% to 14.85% on 23 February.
Gunns is a corporate governance nightmare, yet largest shareholder Perpetual has never said anything publicly about the antics of executive chairman John Gay.
Forget Tabcorp John, roll up your sleeves and knock Gunns into shape.