Don’t believe all the stories this morning claiming that Nine Entertainment came close to a first strike against its remuneration report as “shareholders railed against the high pay awarded to executive and non-executive directors despite the broadcaster’s disappointing performance”. Yes, more than 21% of votes went against Nine’s remuneration report and more than 19% opposed the resolution on performance rights to chief executive Hugh Marks. But it could be due to an attempted “revenge” attack on the company by its once long-time regional affiliate, Bruce Gordon.
The “no” votes could have been inflated by the shares owned by Nine’s spurned long-time partner, Bruce Gordon, owner of WIN, the network’s former regional affiliate, which Nine flicked this year and replaced with Southern Cross Austereo. And since that rejection, Gordon has been in a real snit — from his tax hideaway in Bermuda, and now in Australia.
WIN has a 15% stake in Nine through investment vehicle Birketu (and a similar stake in the struggling Ten Network where WIN is now the regional affiliate, replacing Southern Cross). Gordon upped his stake in March this year, but the relationship between WIN and Nine has been strained since April, when Nine ditched the nearly 30-year relationship with WIN and signed a five-year affiliation agreement with Southern Cross. That promoted a court battle between the two companies as WIN objected to Nine’s streaming service being offered in regional markets. WIN lost that case in the NSW Supreme Court, and then on appeal. Gordon’s shares were used to vote against the remuneration report and only one of two resolutions involving the awarding of performance rights to Marks — the one involving rights for next year. So his opposition was selective.
Take WIN’s shares out of the vote, and the more than 21% against the remuneration report becomes 8% and against the award to Marks becomes between 4-5%, which is nothing to get excited about. What is to be excited about though is the big loss Gordon is facing on Nine. His stake cost between $190 million and $200 million and was worth just over $120 million yesterday. And at Ten where he also has a 14.95% stake, he has lost hundreds of millions of dollars in the past decade on a stake that at one point was worth $3 a share. Ten shares were at $1.01 yesterday (that is after the consolidation earlier this year, which cut the number of shares on issue by 90%). In other words, a Ten shareholding that was once worth more than $3 was worth 10 cents a share yesterday. It’s the pain from the financial loss and the feeling of rejection by Marks and Nine chair Peter Costello that convinced Gordon try to take revenge at the Nine AGM yesterday. Will he take a similar move at the Ten AGM next month? Don’t hold your breath.