The Secret Broker: As they would say in Yorkshire ‘there’s trouble at pit’
The Secret Broker
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You know when you are in one of those restaurants where they have an open kitchen, so you can see all the action, and you think to yourself, how hard can it be to open your own version?
Well think again. They make it look easy and smooth running by seducing you into a fantasy dream of becoming the next Neil Perry (without the 1980s ponytail). If this is making you salivate, you should stop right there.
It takes years of failures and millions of wasted dollars to allow them to put on their show and then entertain your taste buds with foam of snail and turnip truffles, then relieve your wallet of $75 whilst you smile and pay for this privilege upon leaving.
I mention all of this as whilst the Master Chef of all time, Andrew Forrest, was backing up his yellow Oz Lotto truck in his orange hi vis to collect his dividend, bringing his year’s total to $1.24 billion, two of Andrew’s ex-kitchen hands were backing theirs well and truly over a cliff, 12,000 miles away.
Maybe it was part of their non-compete requirements, who knows, but for some reason they decided to don the flat caps and checked flannel shirts and join the home turf of the Yorkshire Vet whilst drinking Yorkshire Tea and eating unlimited Yorkshire Puddings to make their fortune.
On the Yorkshire Moors, the two apprentices have dug a hole which goes down about a mile and now they plan to build an underground conveyer belt which will go for 32 miles.
Their mine, chock full of polyhalite, which, as we all know, is a multi-nutrient fertiliser buried deep under the Yorkshire Moors and is the largest and richest graded deposit in the world.
Their sommelier must have come up with the name they use to market this stuff to the world: Poly4.
Poly4 helps farmers grow more crops than just using the old manure, and off-take agreements have been signed with various enterprises around the world.
The company that owns all of this is called Sirius Minerals PLC and it has 7 billion shares trading at around 13p on the UK’s AIM.
The two standing proudly above this big hole in the UK countryside are CEO Chris Fraser and non-executive director Russell Scrimshaw.
Chris was the lead merchant banker to Fortescue, when Andrew was raising $US2.5 billion ($3.7 billion) in junk bond debt and Russell was an executive director and deputy CEO of Fortescue Metals and a founding board member.
So, having seen the Master Chef cooking up a storm and creating a very rich dish all for himself, they must have thought to themselves, how easy is this?
Now, while Andrew was backing up his gold-plated, Rolls Royce powered truck, they were whizzing around the Yorkshire Moors in their British Leyland P76, trying to bed down the $US3.8 billion needed to finance this project, having already dug a big hole in the ground.
Part of this road trip required the placement of $US500m of junk bonds and with Chris’ hands placed firmly on the steering wheel, what could possibly go wrong?
Well, you know how previously we mentioned low interest rates and low risk? To give you an idea of the risks involved in building the first mine in the UK for over 40 years, Chris needed his old Merchant Bank calculator and it produced a figure of 13 per cent bond yield required.
Even offering a yield of 12 times higher than the bank rate did not interest investors and so the P76 limped to a halt in a haze of oil and smoke on the side of the M25.
The lack of 13 per cent yield risk-takers, meant Chris had to announce to the market that he had failed in his old role.
After the announcement hit the market, a UK paper ran with the headline “poly needs a cracker” which is almost as funny as the AFR’s headline this week “Ingham’s shares fall on poultry profits”.
Ironically, this week, Andrew could save them with some loose change from the car’s ashtray but somehow, I can’t see this happening.
This is because the two Master Chef trainees had decided they didn’t need Andrew earlier on in the piece and went direct to his archrival, Gina Rinehart.
Probably excited by the thought of drinking real Yorkshire tea and tucking into real Yorkshire puddings, she left the comforts of Peppermint Grove and went and paid a visit to Yorkshire.
All of these culinary delights must have worked for our two kitchen hands, as on the trip she produced the cheque book and wrote them out a cheque for $US250m for a royalty agreement.
She also told them that if they could ever get this bond away, she would buy 200m shares at 25p to give her 4 per cent of the company and a seat on the board.
With Sirius shares trading around 13p, the punt is: can they get their bond away and save the company and all’s well, or do they appoint administrators in October?
If they had played their cards right in all of this, one of Andrew’s dividend cheques could have saved all this drama.
The AIM code for Sirius Minerals is SXX if you want to see if poly does get her cracker before October.
I have my tea bags ready and my Sunday roast with all the trimmings lined up, whatever the outcome, and my experience of Andrew is that he is probably doing the same.