Why finance companies fall over

October 14, 2008

- John Edmundson

While New Zealand has not yet experienced financial turmoil of the type facing the USA, there has been an unprecedented series of collapses of finance companies over the last two years. It is easy to simply blame the directors of these companies as individuals, identifying their greed and the criminality they have resorted to. This is the approach that the mainstream and financial media have taken, in some cases with a quite critical eye, but the problems are deeper than that.

The collapses began in 2006. The first significant company to go was Provincial Finance, known for its “Solid as, I’d say” endorsement from ex-All Black Colin Meads. Established as a mortgage lender, by December 2005 this represented only 6% of its business, while vehicle loans by then accounted for 83% of its lending.

While real estate holds its value or appreciates during good economic times, cars begin to depreciate the moment they are driven out of the yard. Defaults on loan payments from typically low-income, overstretched borrowers became rife, and Provincial Finance was left with increasing numbers of repossessed vehicles. The problem became so severe that the company bought a car yard to sell the 150 repossessed vehicles a month that they were saddled with.

By 2006, the whole edifice was in receivership, along with two others, National Finance 2000 Ltd and Western Bay Finance. At the time of the Provincial Finance failure, commentators responded by advising “mum and dad” investors to be more careful with their investments, but declaring that the collapse “doesn’t mean the entire sector’s dodgy”.

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