Brent King returns to finance sector as General Finance changes hands

Brent King is in charge of his first finance company since exiting Dorchester Pacific in 2006 after a group of investors including Mr King, Malaysia-based Rewi Bugo, investment banker Marvin Lee and the Business Bakery's Grant Baker and Stephen Sinclair bought small non-bank home lender General Finance.

The investors, through Corporate Holdings Ltd, acquired General Finance on December 17 from parties associated with James Lockie and William Cairns in a transaction that had been inked a year earlier but took about 12 months to gain approvals from the Reserve Bank and the trust deed supervisor, the Bath Street Capital-owned Covenant Trustee Services.

Mr King says total assets currently stand at about $15 million. As at September 30, total assets stood at $12.9 million and liabilities at $9.7 million and it recorded a six-month profit of $192,630, according to General Finance's latest product disclosure statement dated December 21 for up to $20 million of term deposits.

Some 84 percent of assets were loan receivables, of which $10.2 million were on first mortgages and $630,000 on second mortgages.

Its capital ratio stood at 47 percent and its liquidity cover ratio at 4.7 times. It had no related party exposures. Its customers "are generally higher risk borrowers, who may have some credit issues, and have not been able to borrow from trading bank sources," it says. Most are referred by mortgage brokers.

Background history
General Finance started business in 1999 as a second mortgage lender and expanded to a full range of home loan products two years later. It has been issuing prospectuses for term deposits since 2004.

According to its last annual report, home mortgage lending peaked in at more than $400 million in 2007, the year it sold its prime mortgage portfolio. The firm "has been a survivor of the finance company sector collapse," managing to trade profitably in the wake of the global financial crisis, it says.

Mr King, who runs NZX sponsor Investment Research Group, says the new owners aim to increase the size of General Finance, get a credit rating and down the track a listing is "a possibility." It is currently exempt from needing a credit rating because its liabilities are less than $20 million.

"We've seen strong demand for both sides of the balance sheet – deposits and loans," Mr King says. "It's still a small company. We have a three-year plan to make it develop. You've got to get a balance of deposits and loans," adding that the aim was "a solid staircase of growth" rather than a rocket.

General Finance offers term deposits from six months to five years. The current one-year rate on its website is 4.0% a year versus an average 3.42% for rates compiled on the interest.co.nz site. Its five-year rate of 4.75% compares with an average 4.04%.

Dorchester dragged down
Mr King was managing director of Dorchester Pacific from 1988-2006, although he sold most of his shares in that company in 2004 to Bridgecorp Capital, then run by Rod Petrecevic, who was later jailed for fraud.

Mr King had founded Dorchester and built it into a $480 million company by assets but after his departure it was dragged down by a disastrous investment in St Laurence. It went into a moratorium in 2009 because it couldn't meet payments to debenture holders.

However, it had attracted Business Bakery as a cornerstone shareholder and, unlike many finance companies, it survived the global financial crisis by convincing investors to accept a complex asset swap.

It is now the profitable listed Turners Automotive Group.

"If you want to last a long time, the key is diversification of risk," Mr King says. "Our market is so small that until you get to a critical size you are exposed."

He says legislative changes since the collapse of the finance company sector, including a more stringent reporting regime, has given investors "more confidence".

Mr King sees a market opportunity for General Finance in medium-term financing – one-to-three years.

Demand for finance companies
"This is a very interesting time in the market for finance companies," he says. "There clearly is market demand for the Investment and lending products. It is my view that a well-structured and well-capitalised finance company will have significant opportunities in the current market."

Mr King says he met Grant Baker through the float of 42 Below and its subsequent sale. Mr King has also sponsored or advised on listings of Charlie's, Finzsoft Solutions, Chow Group and Dorchester.

He is a director of Chow Group and of Mykco, the shell of the previously listed Mykris, which was bought back by its Malaysian investors in 2016.

Mykco owns 1.6% of Corporate Holdings, the parent of General Finance. Mr Bugo is the biggest shareholder with 32%, followed by Mr King with about 21% and Mr Yee on 16.3%.

General Finance has hired Greg Pearce as lending and credit manager, the same role he held at Dorchester between 1997 and 2008.

Chief financial officer Garth Ward previously worked for Allied Nationwide Finance when it was placed in receivership in 2010.

"You just need experienced guys who understand risk and how to mitigate it writing the cheques," Mr King says.

(BusinessDesk)

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