30 Aug 2010

Minister delays trip to deal with troubled finance firm

10:03 pm on 30 August 2010

Finance Minister Bill English has delayed an overseas trip to deal with troubled company South Canterbury Finance.

The company owes 30,000 investors about $1.7 billion and its trustees have given it until Tuesday to find new capital and avoid the prospect of receivership.

Mr English was due to leave for Asia on Monday night but is now remaining in the country as he waits to see whether the company is placed in receivership.

Prime Minister John Key says if the company fails investors will get their money back through the Government's retail deposit guarantee scheme.

Mr Key says the Government's exposure to South Canterbury Finance is about $590 million, but it could recover some of that money by selling the company's assets.

He would not rule out a Government bailout, but says the priority is to minimise any cost to taxpayers and reduce the impact on the economy.

Any action the Government takes will be determined by what the company's trustees decide on Tuesday, he says.

Mr Key says he does not believe the Government's move to place South Canterbury Finance's founder Allan Hubbard and his wife under statutory management in June contributed to the company's problems.

Meanwhile, South Canterbury Finance has rejected suggestions it is in negotiations with the Government over a possible $500 million bailout.

South Canterbury Finance says it is in talks with prospective investors and there have been no negotiations with the Treasury.

Chief executive Sandy Maier says the company has been working through its options.

"We've been working on this for about nine months. We started looking around for an equity investor to invest in the whole business and we're still in negotiations with a couple of parties. We've never discussed any names with the market - most of these people will want to remain confidential."

Trading in the company's securities was halted on Friday. Earlier in August, Standard and Poor's cut South Canterbury Finance's long-term credit rating from B- to CC and warned further downgrades are possible.