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New Zealand Finance Holdings

The Jenny Ruth Column

Tuesday 4th July 2006

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He says he saw the current situation coming three years ago and moved to position his company to ensure it wasn't among the casualties.

He was concerned about the proliferation of people piling into the finance industry back then. "It's like the kiwifruit industry: everybody sees people making a lot of money and as a result people pile into it and then there's a correction," Callaghan says.

Too many people without the right kind of experience were flooding into the industry. "Some of them are very sales focused but there's not a lot of banking experience."

Callaghan's own background is in banking. After graduating with a bachelor of business management in finance and accounting he joined first the Bank of New Zealand and then ASB Bank before founding NZ Finance.

"The easiest thing in the world is to lend money. The trick is getting it back," he says.

His major strategy was to diversify NZ Finance's business base by moving into securitisation, initially by accessing wholesale funds through Australian Mortgage Securities (AMS) and more recently through its own securitisation operation which has been facilitated by $100 million line of credit from Westpac. (Securitisation means packaging a large number of standardised loans into a vehicle, protected by mortgage insurance, that can be sold in units to institutional investors.)

Now, only 48 per cent of NZ Finance's business is funded by debentures, the traditional way finance companies fund their businesses.

And he also worked on the distribution side by building up the company's mortgage broking capability both internally and through acquisition. NZ Finance bought Approved Mortgage Brokers in April 2005 and then launched a takeover bid for the best brand in the business, Mike Pero Mortgages (MPM) late last year.

That part of the strategy appeared to come somewhat unstuck when Sherman Ma's Liberty Financial swooped in and acquired a blocking stake, preventing NZ Finance from getting to the 90 per cent level where it could compulsorily acquire the remaining shares. Liberty ended up with 19.9 per cent and NZ Finance with 74.7 per cent.

This week, they finally made a deal to resolve that situation and to allow MPM to delist and get rid of the expenses of being a listed company. Both companies will sell their holdings into a new 50/50 joint venture at $1.10 a share.

Since NZ Finance paid 82 cents for the first 55 per cent and $1.05 for the rest of its stake, this means that while it will lose nearly 25 per cent of MPM, it will pocket about $4 million profit. The two companies have also agreed to establish another securitisation program to originate Mike Pero branded mortgages.

Callaghan concedes Ma is a tough negotiator but says he's also fair. "You have to remember that NZ Finance always held all the cards. I have always believed that it is better to have a smaller percentage of a bigger pie than a larger percentage of a smaller pie. The question remains how big will the pie get," he says.

Liberty's experience and what Ma calls its "world-class risk management and technology skills" are attributes Callaghan clearly values.

Now that finance companies have started collapsing - Callaghan says he had expected it to start happening last year - providing investors with increased information is going to be vital, he says. "It's a year when being open and honest is going to be the key."

To that end, NZ Finance has just published its first monthly report on its financial position. No dodgy car or consumer loans there: 94 per cent of its $71.86 million lending book at May 31 had first mortgage security. Its $66.65 million debenture book (up from $62.24 million at March 31) had a 36 month spread of maturities with 11% maturing within three months, 12% within six months and 30% within a year.

You can buy a transcript of the entire interview behind this column ($5) or subscribe to a year's worth -- 48 interviews ($100) by emailing: or visiting the Good Returns Bookstore by clicking here:

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