Combative Babcock & Brown spinner Kelly Hibbins has the toughest job in PR right now, but she’s really earning her big salary and does have both the ear of CEO Phil Green and the authority to speak.

Within six minutes of asking last Monday whether the window was open for Babcock executives to support the stock, Kelly replied as follows:

“Unfortunately, we are not at the present time. Always pretty difficult for us to open a window given the number of things going on here at any one time. There is a lot of pressure from employees, particularly offshore, to open it so that we can buy as obviously we could make a difference to the share price but not at this stage.”

Given that Babcock is 43% owned by its collectively wealthy executive team, this sort of thing really should be announced to the broader market.

Hibbins also fired a long reply yesterday to various comments I’ve made about Babcock, including the charge that some of it was “inaccurate and unduly alarming for investors who look to commentators such as you for informed insight and guidance”. (Read the full Hibbins reply elsewhere in this Crikey edition.)

Predicting that a finance house is finished is something that should only be done with the greatest of care. Whilst Babcock cannot be subject to a traditional bank run, it is certainly suffering a capital strike from investors and counterparty risk, such as the way many margin lenders are cutting their borrowing ratios on anything called Babcock.

However, given what we’ve seen with MFS and Allco, commentators simply have to make a call and I don’t see the Babcock & Brown brand surviving in the longer term.

Sure, the headstock is up another 10% to $6.47 today but the overall losses still exceed $5 billion and funds management is a winner-takes-all game where the underperformers don’t survive.

The share price collapse was always going to lead to heavy commentary and no-one wants to look as stupid as CNBC’s Jim Cramer when he ranted that Bear Stearns was fine six days before it was bailed out by The Fed and sold for a pittance to JP Morgan.

Whilst engaging with media commentators is fair enough, Babcock has a much bigger problem with market analysts who felt misled about the terms of its debt package and roundly savaged the management in research reports late last week.

Now that it is in crisis, it has an even bigger problem with proxy advisory firm Risk Metrics which is both feeding and fuelling a lot of the media commentary and directly advising its institutional clients to give it a wide berth.

For instance, Alan Kohler unloaded with another powerful piece on Business Spectator this morning pushing the governance arguments strongly and backing up the Risk Metrics view that regulators are partly to blame for the Babcock phenomenon.

Check out this video on Andrew Michelmore’s overblown claims about the Zinifex-Oxiana merger.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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