As a debt-addicted nation, any sort of global credit or liquidity crisis was always going to hit Australia hard. However, poor governance, easy credit, slack regulation and an emerging underworld element is combining to make Australia one of the most dramatically hit jurisdictions in the world.

Allco, Centro, Macquarie Fortress, MFS, City Pacific, ABC Learning, Tricom and Opes Prime are just some of the vehicles struggling to survive and this morning it was Lift Capital which went into administration.

Fairfax’s Michael West broke the story on Lift’s problems late yesterday morning and has followed up with some quick analysis after McGrathNicol was appointed this morning.

West claims that Merrill Lynch is owed $650 million on an $800 million portfolio and the business model is similar to Tricom and Opes. However, the losses won’t be nearly as bad as Opes, but proving the point about contagion, the two biggest hits appear to have come from exposures to Allco and the MFS founders – Phil Adams and Michael King’s.

King’s ability to keep that $20 million Gold Coast polo complex out of his name – as Ross Greenwood revealed on Sunday a few weeks back – will be an interesting element to watch as this one plays out.

Michael West has been firing like never before over the past month. That headline in yesterday’s Media section of The Australian – “West’s bosses pay price for not giving a toss” – was perhaps a subtle message from the subs desk to Chris Mitchell that the paper should not have lost him.

After all, West broke the story about Chris Murphy’s 95% loan-to-valuation ratio for Fairfax on April 2, yet The Australian splashed with the same stuff today, even creating the illusion that Mick Gatto had exclusively provided the paper with the account details.

West and The Age’s Mark Hawthorne had the same material last week and the documents have been circulated widely.

Despite its front page ad for Gatto, The Australian’s crime writer Gary Hughes at least provided a bit of perspective on what might really be happening with the following on page six:

One Victorian detective said it was intriguing the way that Mr Gatto, who had been attempting to stay out of the public eye, was suddenly giving media interviews and talking freely about his involvement in Opes Prime.

“It probably just shows how much money is at stake here,” the detective said.

Indeed, it is now being suggested that Tony Mokbel’s arrest last year might have contributed to the Opes Prime collapse. After all, how do you margin call a bloke languishing in a Greek jail.

But why would Gatto care when they were on opposite sides of the underworld war? Intriguing stuff!

Go here for a discussion with Jon Faine on gaming share prices and Opes.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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