Trading halts and late night responses to ASX queries are never a good look and the teetering Babcock & Brown has been specialising in them over the past 24 hours.

After the stock plunged $1.06 to a record low of $3.45 yesterday, B&B produced this response to an ASX query at 7.26pm last night and asked for the stock to be suspended pending a board sub-committee meeting which is expected to force the departure of CEO Phil Green along with other changes at the top.

It is extremely rare indeed for board or management changes to be deemed so market sensitive that the stock can’t trade. Surely Babcock will have to follow Allco’s lead from earlier in the year and delay tomorrow’s profit result.

You can’t fire the CEO and embrace the concept of an independent chairman on the same day the profit is being released — what chance does the new bloke get to slash balance sheet values?

Babcock claims to have net assets of $2.5 billion yet the market cap is $1.15 billion after yesterday’s route, suggesting $1 billion-plus in write-offs and a huge loss are coming.

The company’s investments in its various funds mostly hit fresh record lows today so the potential write-offs that Ernst & Young auditor Mark O’Sullivan should push for keep blowing out.

The following table shows how Babcock & Brown and Macquarie Group have presided over the destruction of more than $40 billion in value from these various 52-week highs across all 19 ASX-listed vehicles:

A Macquarie spinner correctly points out that BHP Billiton’s ASX listed shares are down $43 billion on the same measure, but the percentage falls at Babcock are still quite stunning. And those figures are a few days old, so the Babcock plunges since had added at least another $2 billion. Today’s carnage was as follows:

  • Babcock & Brown Infrastructure: down 4.5c to 45.5c
  • Babcock & Brown Power: down 0.5c to 17.5c
  • Babcock & Brown Wind: down 10.5c to $1.29
  • Babcock & Brown Communities: down 2.5c to 30c.
  • Everest Babcock & Brown: down 1.5c to 50c.

Babcock & Brown is clearly dead as a fund manager. The only question now is how much value can be salvaged from an orderly sale of its $60 billion-plus in assets. The disaster which was the sale of Babcock & Brown Power’s Tamar Valley power station to the Tasmanian government for only $100 million smacked of desperation and raised question marks over the book values of the entire group.

The obvious governance question in this mess revolves around the on-going payment of fees by the sagging satellites to the mother-ship. Tony Boyd had a good column on Business Spectator last night pointing out that the proposed $24 million in fees from BB Power to B&B for 2007-08 is an absolute scandal. After all, shouldn’t the money be going the other way given the B&B Power has now taken a $400 million-plus 51 million write-down on its Alinta assets.

Meanwhile, Macquarie Group has rubbed Babcock’s nose in its today with a significant restructure of Macquarie Airports that sent the shares soaring almost 10%.

And the Macquarie Capital privatisation proposal was approved by 99% of shareholders this morning. Look again at the figures in the above table and expect many more such deals.

Peter Fray

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