Could there be a more certain indicator of the end of the boom than the muddled analysis of the Opes Prime and ANZ affair?

The setting is simple enough: loser investors lose money in dodgy finance outfit. The promoters and investors look equally culpable.

Some look around for others to blame, and the bank is a soft target.

ANZ deny liability, explain that the blame rests with others, and set up a committee to deal with an exaggerated problem. It’s almost a pantomime of itself.

As well as ANZ and Opes the cast includes ASIC, ASX, Lift Capital, Dresdner, and Merrill Lynch. Supported by Mick Gatto, Chris Murphy and an array of idiotic investments in no-merit, low cap stocks.

Challenger Financial Services was the formerly top 200 representative in this class, and the preferred investment of the firm’s number one customer.

Newspapers and some other media have walk-on parts as squawking extras.

The wholesale reorganisation of ASIC and the ASX was the call of one of Fairfax Media columnist. Michael West also predicted for the two regulators would pay compensation to the customers of Opes Prime.

Corresponding sentiments of “sue ANZ” and “pay up ANZ” abound in all media.

The background: maximum leverage, loan to valuation ratios of 95 per cent on select customer loans from Opes to share investors, faithful investors, a retail lender (Opes) willing to lend loose and a wholesale lender (ANZ) angling for credit growth in institutional banking.

The synopsis: hedge funds with superior knowledge and skills played the bear markets worldwide with ease in January, February and March; short-selling made money for some and plenty of lesser investors lost money.

In this Australian tale the margin calls rushed in. Founders of ABC and Allco and some others lost ownership in their life’s work. Then three barely-known fringe lenders – who treated crap shares like cash – expired in short order.

Three make the short-list of bad apples: Opes Prime. Lift Capital. And Tricom, sort of. There is talk of fraud within ANZ, though little detail on on which insiders are supposed to have done what.

The aggregate losses: uncertain, but the aggregate lending at stake is less than $2 billion and the losses will be a fraction of that. A hen’s breath in $8 trillion of financial system assets.

The rhythms of the cycle demand action, so ANZ posture.

There are no Opes consequences, for Australian banks, though: only sub-prime consequences.

Bank dividends look shaky.

Investors in banks face dilution as banks finally face up to the need to top up capital amid talk (perhaps easing) of credit rationing.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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