There once was a time in Australia where a fund manager freezing redemptions was a hugely embarrassing development that would trigger regulatory intervention and huge brand damage. Now, it seems, everyone is doing it.

Check out this remarkable list of almost 20 frozen funds in Australia and New Zealand. It should come as no surprise that Centro and Allco are on it, but eyebrows were certainly raised when the likes of Challenger and Mirvac joined the club recently joined the club.

But this week’s developments with Axa, AMP and Macquarie? What on earth is going on? Surely these marquee brands have the financial resources and risk-management skills to handle a run on their funds.

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Imagine if the Commonwealth Bank suddenly told customers they’d have to wait 18 months to get their money out? It just goes to prove how much fear is in the market, especially where credit, complexity or property is involved.

Macquarie Group features all those attributes and its shares hit a multi-year low of $39.99 in morning trade after UBS analyst Jonathan Mott downgraded the stock from a buy to a hold yesterday. Maybe Mott was a tad chastened after we touched him up on Tuesday for a March 2008 update talking about Babcock & Brown’s $1.5 billion “war chest”.

The big daddy of them all, Westfield, defiantly refused to write-down its Australian shopping centre portfolio in yesterday’s result as Steven Lowy challenged The AFR’s straight-talking Paddy Manning to show evidence of tumbling values.

Hmmm, how about an entire sector being in crisis, 17 frozen unlisted property and mortgage funds due to an ability to sell assets at book value and the failure of Centro to shift anything meaningful from its huge Australian portfolio. Oh, and then there is the fact that virtually all listed property funds are trading at huge discounts to claimed asset backing.

The past 12 months during the global credit crunch has produced some extraordinary developments. We’ll see more than 20 companies on the $100 million loss club list for 2007-08 by next week. There has also been unprecedented turnover in CEO ranks with big names such as Foster’s, NAB, Lend Lease, IAG, Macquarie, Qantas and Westpac all changing the guard, along with most of the teetering financial engineers such as Babcock and MFS.

But there are others deserving of the bullet. John Gay and Eddie Groves appear on their last legs with both Gunns and ABC Learning still suspended this morning.

And The Australian’s John Durie has correctly pointed out that it’s time for a few chairman to bite the dust as well. With John Morschell available for ANZ and Phil Twyman ready to step up at IAG, there’s no reason for the incumbents, Charles Goode and James Strong, to present for re-election at their forthcoming AGMs.

*Check out this video announcing a BHP board tilt opposing the Rio bid and chairman Don Argus.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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