Archive | Commerce Commission

Fletcher Building seeks clearance to acquire Waikato Aggregates

Fletcher Building Ltd has sought Commerce Commission clearance to acquire all the assets & employees of Waikato Aggregates Ltd, including the right to extract & process sand from the Tamahere quarry. However, Waikato Aggregates will maintain ownership of the underlying land of the quarry.

Waikato Aggregates, a privately owned company incorporated in 2011, has 6 local shareholders. It owns & operates a sand quarry at Tamahere, just south of Hamilton, and supplies sand in the Waikato & Bay of Plenty.

Fletcher Building is a customer in those areas and uses the sand to manufacture & supply readymix concrete, concrete blocks & pavers and concrete pipes.

The commission said it would clear the application if satisfied the acquisition won’t lessen competition in a market.

Attribution: Commission release.

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Both sides appeal steel mesh penalty

Steel & Tube Holdings Ltd followed the Commerce Commission back into court yesterday as both filed appeals against a fine imposed last month relating to the company’s steel mesh.

Judge Warren Cathcart fined Steel & Tube $1.885 million in the Auckland District Court on 24 October for breaching the Fair Trading Act by making false & misleading representations about its steel mesh products which are used in construction to provide strength & stability in the event of an earthquake.

Steel & Tube pleaded guilty to 24 charges relating to conduct between 1 March 2012 & 5 April 2016, covering 482 batches & about 480,000 sheets of steel mesh, which Steel & Tube sold for about $24 million.

Judge Cathcart adopted a starting penalty of $2.9 million for the misrepresentations and discounted this to a $1.885 million penalty to reflect Steel & Tube’s guilty pleas, co-operation with the commission & remedial measures.

The commission said it had appealed on the bases that the judge erred by:

  • failing to properly attribute the knowledge of a Steel & Tube manager to the company, and
  • not adequately taking into account the size of Steel & Tube and the potential for it to gain from the conduct.

Steel & Tube said yesterday it had carefully reviewed the decision and believed the fine was excessive. In its statement yesterday, Steel & Tube said that when the judge released his decision it had apologised to its customers, shareholders & staff for the historic breaches of the Fair Trading Act and stressed that the breaches were unintentional.

The company added: “Both the Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment and the Structural Engineering Society have indicated that homeowners should not be concerned about the safety or ductility of steel mesh in their homes. The Insurance Council also recently reassured homeowners they should not be unduly concerned about insurance claims in respect of homes containing steel mesh from Steel & Tube.”

Earlier story:
24 October 2018: Steel & Tube fined $1.885 million for misleading steel mesh representations

Attribution: Commission & company releases.

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Steel & Tube fined $1.885 million for misleading steel mesh representations

Steel & Tube Holdings Ltd was fined $1.885 million in the Auckland District Court yesterday for breaching the Fair Trading Act by making false & misleading representations about its steel mesh products which are used in construction to provide strength & stability in the event of an earthquake.

The Commerce Commission, which brought the prosecution, said this was a record fine for a single company under the Fair Trading Act.

Steel & Tube pleaded guilty to 24 charges relating to conduct between 1 March 2012 & 5 April 2016, covering 482 batches & about 480,000 sheets of steel mesh, which Steel & Tube sold for about $24 million. The offending fell into 2 categories:

  • Representations that were liable to mislead the public on batch tags, batch test certificates, advertising collateral and Steel & Tube’s website that its SE62 steel mesh was 500E grade steel mesh, meeting the Australia/NZ Standard for reinforcing steel, when it was not. Steel & Tube failed to properly age & test the product
  • False & misleading representations on batch test certificates and Steel & Tube’s website claiming the steel mesh had been independently tested, when it had not.

Judge Warren Cathcart adopted a starting penalty of $2.9 million for the misrepresentations and discounted this to a $1.885 million penalty to reflect Steel & Tube’s guilty pleas, co-operation with the commission & remedial measures.

“Grossly negligent”

In his judgment, Judge Cathcart said: “I characterise the culpability of Steel & Tube as grossly negligent…… Senior management ought to have known of the largescale non-compliance over the 4-year charging period.

“The technical manager was not properly supervised. Steel & Tube cannot be permitted to wash their hands of taking responsibility for that negligent oversight….. It was Steel & Tube’s responsibility to have proper systems in place to ensure compliance with the standard. This is particularly so given the significant revenues Steel & Tube derived from its sales of SE62 and the heavy extent of its reliance on the standard and its marketing of that product…. The lack of robust procedures would have been self-evident even if basic enquiries had been made.”

Non-compliance with the standard doesn’t necessarily mean the product lacks the physical & mechanical properties of earthquake-grade steel mesh.

Judge Cathcart said: “Questions about the soundness of the mesh remain largely unanswerable, which was precisely the mischief the standard seeks to address. And the whole purpose of the standard is to safeguard people from injury caused by structural failure, to safeguard people from loss of amenity caused by structural behaviour, and to protect other property from physical damage. Steel & Tube’s conduct therefore strikes at the core foundation of the Fair Trading Act.”

Investigation began 3 years ago

The commission carried out a series of investigations into steel mesh following a complaint in August 2015, and began investigating Steel & Tube in March 2016.

Steel & Tube voluntarily stopped selling its SE62 product on 6 April 2016 and, on 28 April 2016, Steel & Tube entered into court-enforceable undertakings with the commission to only sell SE62 500E grade steel mesh that had passed specific independent testing.

Following the commission’s investigations:

  • Fletcher Steel Ltd was issued with a warning
  • United Steel Ltd &d Pacific Steel (NZ) Ltd were issued with compliance advice
  • Timber King Ltd & NZ Steel Distributor Ltd were fined 4400,950 after pleading guilty to 7 charges
  • Brilliance International Ltd was fined $540,000 after pleading guilty to 20 charges.
  • 59 charges against Euro Corp Ltd are still before the court.

Not about performance, but testing & logos, says Steel & Tube

Steel & Tube emphasised after the judge announced the penalty that it didn’t relate to the performance characteristics of the steel mesh, but to the application of testing methodologies & the inadvertent use of a testing laboratory’s logo on the bottom of test certificates.

Chief executive Mark Malpass said the fine wouldn’t impact on Steel & Tube’s financial results in the 2019 financial year.

Mr Malpass also apologised to customers & shareholders, though he said the breaches were unintentional: “We stand by the integrity of our products. In our view, even if our testing methods at the time did not meet the testing requirements in full, the differences in testing would not have a material impact on the performance of the steel mesh.”

The Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment also indicated homeowners shouldn’t be concerned about the safety of the steel mesh, while the Structural Engineering Society of NZ said homeowners shouldn’t be unnecessarily concerned about the ductility of steel mesh in their houses.

The standard specifies elongation (a performance aspect for seismic mesh) as 10%. Mr Malpass said information Steel & Tube presented to the Commerce Commission & the court indicated that, even if elongation of the mesh was as low as 5%, the impact would be negligible.

Attribution: Judgment, and Commerce Commission, Steel & Tube, MBIE & Structural Engineering Society releases.

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Fletcher gets miffy over Steel & Tube time to get advice, pulls what was only ever a “non-binding & indicative offer”

Fletcher Building Ltd dropped its on-the-quiet attempt to buy fellow NZX-listed company Steel & Tube Holdings Ltd yesterday, 3 hours after Steel & Tube told the exchange a revised offer still undervalued it.

Remarkably, Fletcher blamed the Steel & Tube board’s lack of support to “progress the proposal in a timely manner”.

5 weeks after Fletcher’s initial confidential approach, the Steel & Tube board decided it needed expert advice on Friday’s revised offer that would take 3-4 weeks to confirm.

Fletcher said they’d had “ample time”.

Again, as it did with its initial offer, Fletcher focused on the short-term timeframe of Steel & Tube’s share price, ignoring the turnaround process Steel & Tube has begun after a $38 million annual loss.

Fletcher initially began talks confidentially with the Steel & Tube board, and also with major shareholders in the target company, on its 10 September proposal to make a non-binding indicative offer of $1.70/share for the whole of Steel & Tube.

12 days after Steel & Tube disclosed that offer & its rejection to the market, Fletcher came again with a $1.90/share price tag plus a 5c/share dividend, with imputation credits.

This time, Steel & Tube told the market:

  1. Its advisors’ (First NZ Capital Ltd) view on Steel & Tube’s intrinsic value was between $1.95-2.36/share, excluding the company’s share of synergies, and
  2. The permitted dividend doesn’t adequately compensate shareholders for the extended timeframe realistically required to seek regulatory approvals.

The Steel & Tube board said of the new offer:

“The revised offer of $1.90/share implies an enterprise value (EV) of $341 million and is only an 8.5x multiple of our long-term sustainable earnings, assessed as 2021 financial year ebit (earnings before interest & tax) of $40 million. Comparatively, excluding the company’s share of synergies, our advisors’ valuation range is an implied EV of $346-414 million.
“However, Steel & Tube advises that in light of the revised offer the board is commissioning an independent expert report which will take 3-4 weeks, and will further consult its legal & financial advisors about the implications of the revised offer. Fletcher Building has been advised of this.”

Steel & Tube chair Susan Paterson.

Steel & Tube chair Susan Paterson said: “The revised non-binding indicative offer from Fletchers does not prevent higher value approaches from other interested parties. The board will continue to evaluate strategies & actions that deliver the best value to shareholders and is continuing to focus on executing our turn-around strategy.”

In her letter to Fletcher chair Bruce Hassall & chief executive Ross Taylor, Ms Paterson said: “While we understand you may have indications of some support from a couple of our institutional shareholders, the board needs to consider the interests of all shareholders taken as a whole, and the execution risks inherent in the revised non-binding indicative offer.

“Chapman Tripp continues to advise that the proposed acquisition would face challenging issues for clearance under the Commerce Act, due to Fletcher’s vertical presence & significant size in several steel product markets.”

The sulk

Fletcher said in its withdrawal announcement it had pulled its offer “due to lack of support from Steel & Tube’s board to progress the proposal in a timely manner.

“Steel & Tube has announced that it does not support Fletcher Building’s revised proposal, and that it would need a further 3-4 weeks to confirm this view. Fletcher Building has been engaging with Steel & Tube on a proposal for 5 weeks now, which has provided ample time for the board to seek independent valuation advice.

“During that period, Fletcher Building received support for progressing its proposal from major Steel & Tube shareholders Milford Asset Management & Harbour Asset Management.”

Analysing share price movements with a glass eye

Fletcher said its revised proposal “provided a significant premium of more than 50% to Steel & Tube’s pre-announcement 5-day volume-weighted average price”.

Fletcher Building chief executive Ross Taylor.

Fletcher chief executive Ross Taylor said: “Despite offering what we believe was a very attractive offer to Steel & Tube shareholders, our engagement with the Steel & Tube board has been unsuccessful and, as a result, we have withdrawn the acquisition proposal.

“Based on expert advice, Fletcher Building remains confident the transaction would have received Commerce Commission clearance. Steel & Tube’s market share information released on 10 October doesn’t properly take into account the material impact of direct imported products in relevant markets.”

Steel & Tube Holdings Ltd’s share price rose 11c to $1.34 in the 4 days before it revealed Fletcher Building Ltd’s intention to take it over. On 3 October, the day of the announcement, the price rose another 22c, and 3c more the next day to reach $1.59 – a 36% gain in a week.

The price had fallen to $1.15 at the end of August, tumbling from $1.83 in May & $2.06 in January.

Steel & Tube’s share price dropped to $1.48 a week ago and has since been in a 3c band around that price.

Fletcher’s share price hit a short-term peak of $6.58 on 2 October, the day before Steel & Tube revealed the confidential offer. Since then, the Fletcher price has tumbled to $6.10.

Like Steel & Tube, the Fletcher share price has been hit over the last 2 years by revelations of incompetent management & board control.

On 2 February, 12 days before Fletcher announced an extra $486 million of losses by its Building + Interiors division, accompanied by chair Sir Ralph Norris’s decision to resign, its share price hit a 4-month high of $7.61. It bottomed on 4 April at $5.53 and made it back up to $7.13 on 30 July.

The Fletcher share price had been at $10.19 in November 2016. The company had become aware of deep problems within its vertical construction business over that summer, and the price had dropped to $8.73 by 17 March 2017, the Friday before now-departed chief executive Mark Adamson made the first revelation of the extent of Fletcher’s problems.

Link:
Steel & Tube investor updates

Earlier stories:
5 October 2018: The price was moving, the confidentiality remains, and still-weak Fletcher insinuates Steel & Tube takeover “compelling”
13 September 2018: Steel & Tube bookbuild scaled
30 August 2018: Steel & Tube completes books-clearing, future already brighter
22 August 2018: Updated: A loss, but flow of red ink stops at Fletcher Building
7 August 2018: Updated: Steel & Tube seeks $80.9 million from placement & rights issue, updates guidance
1 July 2018: Fletcher Building exits Sims recycling joint venture
22 June 2018: Australia the next big focus for Fletcher, offsite construction an innovation example
23 May 2018: Review puts Steel & Tube ebit loss at $38 million
14 February 2018: Another $486 million of losses for Fletcher Building, and Norris resigns

Attribution: Fletcher and Steel & Tube releases, websites, NZX.

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Fulton Hogan drops Huntly quarry from Stevenson purchase, Commerce Commission happy

The Commerce Commission has closed its investigation into roading & infrastructure construction company Fulton Hogan Ltd’s acquisition of Stevenson Group Ltd’s construction materials business, saying its concerns with the transaction have been addressed.

Fulton Hogan agreed to buy Stevenson’s construction materials business in May, intending to take full ownership of Stevenson’s 2 quarries & 4 concrete plants, transport, laboratory services and associated plant & equipment.

Fulton Hogan didn’t seek clearance under the commission’s merger regime, and the commission opened an investigation in June, primarily due to concerns the acquisition could reduce competition for the production & supply of aggregates (granular rocks, gravel or sand typically used in roading & construction) in Auckland & North Waikato. Fulton Hogan & Stevenson both own & operate quarries in Auckland & Huntly.

Commission deputy chair Sue Begg said yesterday Fulton Hogan had since agreed not to acquire Stevenson’s Huntly quarry as part of the transaction and it had now been formally excluded from the purchase.

“The decision to remove the Huntly quarry from the transaction addresses our concerns in this case. We are satisfied that Fulton Hogan’s purchase of Stevenson’s Auckland quarry assets is unlikely to substantially lessen competition, given the presence of other competitors in this market, and we have now closed our investigation.”

Stevenson’s focus has shifted to the development of its Drury quarry & land across to Auckland’s Southern Motorway, where it had 361ha of rural & quarry land rezoned in 2013 for a mix of industrial & business development.

Since then, Kiwi Property Group Ltd has bought 51ha at Drury to create a town centre, and Karaka & Drury Ltd (Charles Ma) has begun work on 2 residential developments at Drury, the first for 68ha and the second for 85ha, set to yield about 2700 homes plus a village centre.

Link:
Commerce Commission case register

Earlier stories:
15 June 2018: Commission opens investigation into Fulton Hogan’s Stevenson acquisition
31 October 2016: Work starts on 3 striking special housing area projects
24 August 2016: Work set to start after fast approval for Auranga special housing area at Drury
30 August 2013: Drury South industrial area plan change & MUL extension approved
10 September 2017: Second round for Auranga precinct confirms Drury as major growth centre

Attribution: Commission & Fulton Hogan releases.

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Updated: Commission takes Vector to court for failing to curtail power outages, and Vector says rules out of date

Published 10 October 2018, updated 11 October 2018:
The Commerce Commission said it would file civil proceedings in the Auckland High Court on Wednesday seeking financial penalties against electricity lines company Vector Ltd for breaching its network quality standards.

Vector said it was at fault – but believed the regime “no longer reflects reality” (see its response below).

Vector serves over half a million homes & businesses in the greater Auckland region and, as a regulated business, must comply with commission regulations regarding the maximum revenue it can collect and the minimum standards of quality it must deliver. Quality is measured in the duration & frequency of power outages.

The commission said: “As part of its compliance with the regulations, Vector reported that it had breached its quality standards in both the 2015 & 2016 financial years. The commission will file proceedings under the Commerce Act alleging Vector failed to adhere to good industry practice in some aspects of its network management, which resulted in increased outages over that period.

In particular, the commission considers Vector did not meet good industry practice with regard to aspects of its:

  • overall governance of compliance with the quality standards – for example, underestimating the growing risk of non-compliance, and failing to have methods to predict & plan for the effects of increased traffic congestion
  • asset lifecycle management practices
  • approach to managing reliability, such as a consolidated & documented strategic reliability management plan, which would have helped to identify key issues & solution options
  • vegetation management (cutting trees to avoid collisions with power lines), and
  • management & supervision of arrangements with the field service providers whose crews undertake maintenance & fix faults on Vector’s network.

The commission said Vector had co-operated with its investigation and confirmed it wouldn’t contest the proceedings. It has also reported further breaches of its quality standards for 2017 & 2018 that are subject to a separate investigation.

The maximum financial penalty that can be imposed on an electricity lines business for a breach of its price-quality path is $5 million per act or omission. If the court imposes a penalty, section 87A of the Commerce Act allows the commission, or any person who has suffered loss or damage as a result of the breach, to bring a further claim for compensation against the electricity lines company within 12 months of the penalty.

Vector admits erring, but says regime “no longer reflects reality”

Vector acknowledged yesterday it was agreeing to a settlement with the Commerce Commission, following breaches of an electricity network quality standard in 2015 & 2016.

The company said details of the settlement would be heard at a penalty hearing to take place “in due course”.

The company’s chief network officer, Andre Botha, added that Vector believed the quality control regime “no longer reflects reality”.

Like other lines companies, Vector’s prices and service quality are regulated by the Commission using a price-quality path, which means Vector is required to meet certain network quality standards, relative to its own historical performance, and is limited in the amount of revenue it can earn.

Vector’s chief network officer, Andre Botha, said one of the Commerce Commission’s quality standards was the average duration in minutes of network interruptions. The commission found Vector breached this quality standard by 51 minutes in the 2015 regulatory year and 13 minutes in the 2016 regulatory year.

“Vector has noted to the commission the circumstances that it believes contributed to its breach of the service quality standards in 2015 & 2016. These conditions included increased storm frequency & other weather-related impacts, increases in Auckland’s traffic congestion, which have slowed travel times and can prevent maintenance crews from reaching network faults in a timely fashion, and Vector’s decision to prioritise safety of its people by introducing a best-practice policy to avoid working on live lines wherever possible, which can lead to extended outages.

“We understand the disruption these breaches have caused for some Aucklanders and we have been working hard on a range of measures to reduce the impact. However, we also believe the existing regime for quality control no longer reflects the reality of the changed operating environment, particularly in Auckland, and meeting these legacy quality standards will remain a significant challenge for ourselves & others in the industry.

“It is pleasing that we have been able to table these concerns with the Commerce Commission directly and we will continue to work constructively with them to determine new quality standards that will take effect on 1 April 2020 following the next regulatory reset process.”

Attribution: Commission & Vector releases.

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Steel mesh supplier Brilliance fined for misleading representations

Auckland District Court Judge Robert Ronayne has fined Brilliance International Ltd (Wu Guanghui & Wu Donghui, both of Dannemora, Auckland) $540,000 for making false & misleading representations relating to its steel mesh products which are used to earthquake-strengthen buildings.

Following the judge’s decision, released on Friday, class action legal specialist Adina Thorn encouraged Brilliance steel mesh customers to join a proposed class action against several companies that have supplied non-compliant steel mesh product.

Judge Ronayne sentenced Brilliance on 20 charges brought by the Commerce Commission under the Fair Trading Act. Brilliance pleaded guilty to making false & misleading representations for its 147E steel mesh product, which it marketed & sold as being earthquake grade ‘500E’ steel mesh, between 30 September 2012 & June 2016.

11 charges were for making representations on the Brilliance website that were liable to mislead the public and on product tags that its 147E steel mesh complied with the Australian/NZ Standard for reinforcing steel suitable for structural use in an earthquake zone, when it did not comply.

The other 9 charges related to false & misleading representations on Brilliance’s website that the product had been tested by independent testing laboratory SGS NZ, when it had not. The charges relate to about 35 batches of 147E steel mesh, or 56,125 sheets.

Commission says non-compliance undermines NZ Building Code & Standards

Commerce Commission chair Dr Mark Berry said in response to the judgment: “The safety & durability of New Zealand’s buildings depend on them being constructed with materials that comply with the relevant standards. False & misleading representations about building products are a priority for the commission because compliance with standards is critical to both public confidence & safety,”

Judge Ronayne said in his judgment: “It is self-evident that standards are fundamentally important. The defendants’ conduct… plainly undermined the NZ Building Code & the objectives of NZ Standards in general.

“The defendant’s conduct is highly culpable because its behaviour has left consumers in a position of uncertainty, because it cannot now be known whether all of the [steel mesh] complied. This position of uncertainty is what the free trade agreement and the standard seek to avoid.”

Steel mesh cases

The commission filed charges against a number of companies relating to false & misleading representations about 500E steel mesh. In 500E, the ‘E’ stands for earthquake and the standard specifies strength & ductility (elasticity) requirements for steel reinforcing materials. The standard also specifies the procedures (ie, sampling & testing) that must be followed to produce steel of the specified standard, including:

  • manufacturing methods that must be used by steel manufacturers
  • chemical, mechanical & dimensional requirements of mesh
  • sampling & testing of every batch of mesh
  • identification & labelling of different grades of mesh.

To be sold in New Zealand as 500E grade steel mesh, the mesh must be produced in accordance with the requirements of the standard. If mesh is produced in any other way, it cannot be described as 500E mesh. The Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment (MBIE) is the building regulator, and sets & enforces the standards & Building Code. The commission can investigate misleading or deceptive claims about compliance with the standard.

Investigations began in 2015

The commission has carried out a series of investigations into steel mesh following a complaint in August 2015. Following its investigations:

Links:
Commerce Commission case register, Brilliance Steel decision
Steel mesh class action

Earlier stories:
27 July 2018: Lawyer says interest in class action grows as steel mesh sentence awaited
26 April 2018: First companies sentenced arising from steel mesh investigation
29 November 2017: Steel & Tube owns up to mesh label & testing guilty pleas
8 June 2017: Updated: Commission files 29 charges against Steel & Tube over mesh
2 November 2016: Steel mesh testing rules tightened
25 April 2016: Commission lifts ‘stop’ on Euro Corp steel mesh
8 April 2016: Steel & Tube undertakes dual mesh testing
5 March 2016: Suppliers recheck as commission questions steel mesh, ministry not worried

Attribution: Decision, commission release, Thorn release.

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Lawyer says interest in class action grows as steel mesh sentence awaited

Class action specialist, Auckland lawyer Adina Thorn, said yesterday Steel & Tube Holdings Ltd’s 24 guilty pleas last November relating to false & misleading representations about steel mesh had boosted interest in a proposed class action.

Steel & Tube pleaded guilty in November to 24 of 29 charges laid by the Commerce Commission relating to false & misleading representations concerning 500E earthquake-grade steel mesh. A sentencing hearing was held in the Auckland District Court in May but no sentence has been handed down yet.

Ms Thorn said: “This has led to further owners from across New Zealand signing up for a proposed steel mesh class action against Steel & Tube.

“Our registrations of interest are currently running at a high level and we expect that the sentencing itself will encourage more owners to join the proposed class action against Steel & Tube.

“The proposed action is funded, which means that while funding is in place owners will face no out-of-pocket costs, as all the legal, technical & court costs involved in a claim of this scale will be picked up by the funder in return for them receiving a share of any proceeds of success.”

Ms Thorn said the proposed class action was designed to deliver compensation for the stress & uncertainty for property owners who had ended up with non-compliant steel mesh in their homes & driveways: “The mesh is there forever. Everyone wants to know their home is compliant. Steel & Tube cannot give that assurance – we know the mesh is non-compliant. What we don’t know enough about is performance of that non-complaint mesh in an earthquake. That uncertainty is stressful & unacceptable. We are seeking for owners to be compensated for that.

“This mesh was sold between about March 2012 & April 2016 and much of it was used in the rebuilding of Canterbury following the earthquakes there. However, the mesh people were buying was supposed to be earthquake-grade, when it wasn’t.”

Link: Steel class action

Earlier stories:
23 May 2018: Review puts Steel & Tube ebit loss at $38 million
29 November 2017: Steel & Tube owns up to mesh label & testing guilty pleas
8 June 2017: Updated: Commission files 29 charges against Steel & Tube over mesh
8 April 2016: Steel & Tube undertakes dual mesh testing
5 March 2016: Suppliers recheck as commission questions steel mesh, ministry not worried

Attribution: Thorn release.

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Commission opens investigation into Fulton Hogan’s Stevenson acquisition

The Commerce Commission has opened an investigation into Fulton Hogan Ltd’s proposed acquisition of Stevenson Group Ltd’s construction materials business.

The commission said yesterday it would consider whether the acquisition would be likely to result in a substantial lessening of competition in any relevant market in breach of section 47 of the Commerce Act. The acquisition is due to be completed by 31 July, but the parties haven’t applied for clearance for it.

Fulton Hogan is one of New Zealand’s largest roading & infrastructure construction companies. The commission said it would focus initially on the potential competitive effects of the proposed acquisition on quarry markets in Auckland & North Waikato.

It would also consider whether any competitive effects arise from Fulton Hogan’s proposed acquisition of Stevenson’s concrete plants, transport, laboratory services and associated plant & equipment.

The commission seeks input to its investigation by Friday 29 June.

The sale would leave Stevenson’s with its property development & mining operations. Its biggest property interest is the 360ha Drury South industrial park it’s begun developing.

Related stories:
7 April 2017: Kiwi Property plans new town centre next to Stevenson’s Drury development
30 August 2013: Drury South industrial area plan change & MUL extension approved

Attribution: Commission release.

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“Cynical & deliberate” repossession practices earn Allan Hawkins’ companies fines & refund orders, commission seeks banning orders

2 finance companies headed by former Equiticorp boss Allan Hawkins – Budget Loans Ltd & Evolution Finance Ltd – were fined $720,000 in the Auckland District Court yesterday on 125 charges under the Fair Trading Act.Judge David Sharp also ordered the companies to pay $53,000 emotional harm reparations to 9 victims and $38,000 in refunds & credits to borrowers for repossession tactics he described as “cynical & deliberate”.

The Commerce Commission is seeking banning orders against Mr Hawkins, now 76, and his elder son, Wayne Hawkins, who was also a director at the relevant times, following this sentencing & the earlier conviction of Budget Loans on 34 charges under the Fair Trading Act in 2010.

6 years of misrepresenting repossession rights

The Commerce Commission’s general counsel for competition & consumer, Mary-Anne Borrowdale, set out the companies’ practices. She said that, over 6 years from 2009 until 2014, Budget Loans misrepresented its right to repossess goods and recover interest & costs from borrowers. It also misrepresented amounts borrowers were required to pay under attachment orders and made misrepresentations about the benefits of refinancing existing loans.

Budget bought the distressed loan books of National Finance 2000 Ltd in 2006 and Western Bay Finance Ltd in 2008, and has twice been convicted for its handling of them. After the company was fined in 2010, it undertook to return $500,000 in overcharged interest & fees to borrowers.

In 2016, Budget Loans was convicted on 106 charges but 19 charges were dismissed. The Commerce Commission successfully appealed the dismissal decision, and Budget Loans’ application for leave to appeal to the Court of Appeal was dismissed in November 2017.

Mr Hawkins founded 1980s high-flier, the Equiticorp group. After its demise in the 1987 sharemarket collapse, he & other Equiticorp executives & an advisor were tried in relation to financing arrangements behind the group’s $166 million purchase of NZ Steel Ltd from the Government in 1987. Mr Hawkins was sentenced to 6 years’ jail in 1993.

After yesterday’s court hearing, Ms Borrowdale said: “The court acknowledged today that Budget Loans attempted to create cashflow by getting Western Bay & National Finance borrowers to pay as much as possible for as long as possible. It continually added costs & interest to loans and then repossessed essential goods from borrowers without notice when they couldn’t pay, regardless of whether it was legally entitled to do so.  “The costs of the repossession were, for the most part, higher than the value of the goods and sometimes Budget Loans simply threw repossessed goods away rather than selling them. It also obtained judgments against some borrowers, but continued to add interest & costs and demanded more from borrowers than the courts had awarded, and to misrepresent its right to repossess.

“Where loans were not secured, Budget Loans sought to convince some borrowers to sign new, secured loans by telling them that they would get a discount on their loan balance. However, the amount of the discounted loan was higher than the amount the borrower was actually required to pay.

“Budget Loans’ conduct & misrepresentations kept vulnerable borrowers in a cycle of debt & repossession. It knowingly engaged in illegal repossessions of essential items from people that it knew were already living in hardship. The financial & emotional distress caused by this conduct to borrowers & their families should not be underestimated.”

83 of the charges were for misrepresentations around repossession, including where there was no valid right to repossess a secured item of property, such as a vehicle or household goods, or where there was no outstanding loan balance to be paid.

“In some cases Budget Loans stripped houses almost bare. In other cases, it repossessed items that it should have known were of low value, and dumped them. Its own loan notes include such comments as ‘someone’s great idea to undertake an illegal repo’ and ‘debtor not to know we can’t repo’.”

29 charges were for adding interest & costs to a loan balance after repossession, when that is not allowed under the Credit Repossession Act.

Ms Borrowdale said: “One borrower declared herself bankrupt when told her loan had ballooned from about $9000 to $57,000. In fact she had less than $2500 to pay at that time. 10 charges were for misrepresentations about adding interest to loans, beyond amounts in attachment orders issued by the courts. One borrower’s loan balance was $8600 following an attachment order, but it was ‘recalculated’ to nearly $56,000.”

The final 3 charges were for misrepresentations about the benefits of refinancing with Budget Loans.

Allan Hawkins is now sole director of Budget Finance & its shareholder, Cynotech Securities Ltd. He & his wife, Laurel, own 99.98% of Cynotech.

He is also sole director of Evolution Finance. Its owner, the previously NZX-listed Cynotech Holdings Ltd, went into liquidation in 2013 after close funding supporters decided they’d no longer pay its overhead & infrastructure costs.

Earlier stories:
19 April 2017: Judge told to reconsider 19 dismissed charges against Hawkins loan companies
118 July 2016: Hawkins’ finance companies guilty on loan contract enforcement
 7 December 2014: Commission files criminal charges against 2 Allan Hawkins finance companies
9 November 2013: Commission tells Allan Hawkins’ finance companies to stop repossessions
31 July 2013: Hawkins goes to McDonald Vague for Cynotech liquidation
11 July 2013: Cynotech share trading halted after backers end support
15 June 2011: Cynotech loss increases as it clears decks
12 August 2010: NZX refuses Cynotech request for waiver
11 August 2010: Cynotech suspended
4 August 2010: Cynotech talks departure, NZX talks suspension
28 July 2010: “Welcome letter” from Hawkins’ Budget Loans to National Finance borrowers came with an illegal $15 fee
16 June 2010: Cynotech slips to loss
14 April 2010: Remaining Cynotech shares to move to NZAX
20 January 2010: Hawkins renews Cynotech privatisation bid
23 December 2009: Hawkins withdraws Cynotech bid after Takeovers Panel asks questions
21 April 2008: Cynotech doubles receivables book to $60 million-plus in 4 months
9 October 2006: Allan Hawkins buys National Finance (Payless Cars) loan book

Attribution: Commission release.

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