Crikey was incredibly agitated yesterday about coverage in The Australian of one Eric Beecher’s largest advertisers, Macquarie Bank.

Coming to the defence of an advertiser is admirable in management, but not such a good look editorially.

Crikey said Adele Ferguson’s reports for The Australian were “highly speculative, highly questionable, highly irresponsible and highly damaging” to Macquarie Bank and that her report was also “reckless”. They were none of the above; they were accurate.

Macquarie’s own accounts and the broker report from JP Morgan clearly show that Macquarie has “$46 billion in funding maturing within one year”. The JP Morgan report goes on to say that $14 billion of loan assets with a duration of less than one year is to be funded by external markets”.

Adele Ferguson’s reports pointed out a figure of $45 billion ($1 billion short of JP Morgan’s 46 billion but just a rounding error in Macquarie-land) and that as much as $5 billion might be difficult to refinance at a decent price and in a decent length of time. The cost of insuring Macquarie’s medium term debt against default doubled this week, validating this.

Stephen Mayne argued in emails this morning that Macquarie “has denied the figure of $45 billion as have most reputable analysts”. No they haven’t.

JP Morgan’s report saying the opposite was only issued yesterday. Macquarie carefully and cleverly avoided saying so with suspiciously precise wording in a statement two days ago. It also tried to deny the story by misquoting from it, an oldie but a goodie.

Mayne also argued that his report yesterday afternoon was justified by what the JP Morgan analyst said almost eight hours later on Lateline last night. Sorry, how does that work? You retrospectively defend your story on the basis on something someone said subsequently?

When you look at what the analyst did say subsequently you find more oddities. He said media reports were misleading and that the $45 billion was an accounting quirk – odd considering the clear statement to the contrary that appeared in his printed report on exactly the same day.

Mayne also claimed The Australian’s stories selectively quoted sources. After his spray yesterday, give me a break. Perhaps Mayne should also note that a lot of selling of Macquarie shares occurred yesterday afternoon AFTER its head honchos had briefed shareholders to calm them down.

Crikey’s claim that The Australian and its proprietor Rupert Murdoch “could be singly responsible for undermining confidence in Australia’s largest investment bank and as a result in Australia’s financial marketplace” is flattering but must be denied. Clearly if we could move share prices so much we’d all be on the dealing desk and not wasting our time writing stories.

Crikey has campaigned long and hard against Adele Ferguson since she came to work for The Australian. She deserves an apology. A large grovelling one.

Peter Fray

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