The fortunes of the teetering trio – Allco, Centro and MFS – are starting to diverge.

Macquarie Bank has reportedly been contemplating rescues of the first two, but no-one in their right mind would contemplate wading into the unbelievable mess that is MFS.

Whilst Centro and Allco are back trading away and should have an independent future of some sort, MFS has now been suspended since January 18, despite announcing the $409 million sale of a 65% stake in the Stella tourism business on February 4. This fire sale was at a valuation $900 million below the purchase price, so MFS will soon be joining this notorious $100 million loss club.

There’s a real bunker mentality at MFS. Spindoctor John Hurst isn’t returning calls and must really wish he had stayed on as investment editor of The AFR.

The problem with MFS is that it hasn’t been able to make a clean break from the past. Chairman Andrew Peacock is completely out of his depth and new CEO Craig White was the long-term protégé of the ousted CEO Michael King.

White is dealing with a very skinny board, with no credible heavy hitters, which is presumably why Korda Mentha’s arm, 333 Capital, was called in to play the role of “adviser”, when everyone knows they are corporate undertakers. Surely it is time to either lift the suspension on trade or formalise their appointment.

The problem is not so much MFS itself, but the hugely complex financial dealings with various other associated funds, trusts and listed vehicles which are in varying degrees of trouble.

Take the suspended $770 million MFS Premium Income Fund. CEO Guy Hutchings came out with all sorts of platitudes in Crikey on January 31, but the fact remains that this vehicle has been lending to various risky developments across the country, many of which have a connection to the MFS group.

There is now a mad scramble over this cash with investors wanting out and sub-contractors of developers wanting payment. The very colourful Jim Byrnes is even in there negotiating with Korda Mentha on behalf of various aggrieved subbies.

If one good thing comes out of this it will hopefully be another clean up of corporate governance on the Gold Coast.

For instance, Hickey Lawyers on the Gold Coast are a big player in various property dealings involving the likes of MFS, Raptis and Ray Group.

They have been the preferred outfit for MFS in recent years and one of the partners, Mark Lacy, has been chairman of MFS New Zealand. Service providers sitting on boards of companies is a major no-no as this list shows but it is still going on at MFS.

Not for much longer, you’d think, because MFS probably won’t exist in 2009.

Peter Fray

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