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Macquarie’s missing millions leave shareholders guessing

by Business Spectator's Karen Maley          Crikey.com.au          February 10 2010    

The biggest mystery in Macquarie’s briefing yesterday was what happened to the $500 million the group has gouged from its former stable of listed infrastructure funds since September.

You’ll recall that Macquarie picked up close to half a billion dollars in ‘golden good-byes’ as it relinquished the management rights to its big listed infrastructure funds such as Macquarie Airports, the ‘good part’ of Macquarie Infrastructure and Macquarie Media.

And it’s a fair bet the group picked up tens of millions of dollars in advisory fees from the various captive funds in the lead-up to the separation.

Now it remains a puzzle why investors in a managed fund should have to dig into their pockets and pay a manager to stop managing their fund.

And it’s even more incomprehensible why those payments should run to hundreds of millions of dollars.

Still, the independent directors approved the deals and investors agreed to hand over piles of money so, in a sense, it’s good luck to Macquarie that they managed to get away with it.

But why hasn’t this extra half a billion dollars made Macquarie’s bottom line look like a stunner?

Instead, Macquarie boss, Nicholas Moore, made it clear the investment bank’s 2010 result is going to be drab. Moore sees the group heading towards a profit slightly above $1 billion in 2010.

Profits in the second half are likely to be up to 10 per cent higher than the $479 million the group reported in its first half. Markets were disappointed with the result and immediately sliced 6 per cent off the group’s share price. After all, with an extra $500 million or so of ‘extraordinary’ payments, surely the second half should be looking a lot more glamorous?

As it turns out, Moore provided some clue as to where the money went in yesterday’s annual operational briefing. He said that Macquarie’s compensation ratio – read bonuses – would return to ‘normal levels’ this year after dipping to the ‘low 40s’ last year.

Let’s take a very conservative estimate and assume that bonuses have returned to 50 per cent. That would mean that $250 million of the ‘golden handshake’ money is heading straight for the bonus pool of Macquarie executives. Macquarie has to pay tax on the remaining $250 million, which would leave the about $175 million flowing through to Macquarie’s bottom line.

Of course, the amount flowing through to the bonus pool from the $500 million received from the ‘golden goodbyes’ is likely to be much higher than 50 per cent, because Macquarie’s bonuses are calculated on the marginal dollar of income.

But, even if we assume that even more of the ‘golden handshake’ money has found its way into the Macquarie bonus pool, we’re still left with the problem of working out what happened to the $140 million.

One possible explanation is that Macquarie has bitten the bullet and written down the carrying value of some of its investments in its 2010 accounts.

The other explanation is that Macquarie is finding it much harder to generate big earnings momentum in a post-listed infrastructure fund-world. A world in which Macquarie looks much more like every other investment bank.

Macquarie believers will point out that the group has spent more than $770 million snapping up businesses in funds management, energy advisory and trading, and that the earnings boost from these new acquisitions has yet to be felt on the bottom line.

Here’s hoping they’re right. Otherwise, Moore’s ‘new normal’ is going to prove a whole lot less exciting than the Macquarie of old.

Last modified onTuesday, 28 May 2013 09:24
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