Under-policing here, over-policing there

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Queenstowners are almost certainly among those losing their shirts in Money Managers’ six First Step investment trusts.

About 7000 investors had $460 million in the trusts when they were locked up in 2006. Trustees have paid back $213.5m, but in the past two years $97.7m has been written off.

Money Managers sales staff are active from Invercargill and Dunedin, and Money Managers founder Doug Somers-Edgar is a Southland old boy. Much of the loss appears related to loans to Club Finance, a South Auckland car-finance company 50 per cent owned by Somers-Edgar.

With finance company losses well into the billions and still climbing, and scores of thousands of New Zealand seniors hurt, politicians and high-level bureaucrats might as well be sleep-walking.

Especially, as BizScene has reported, with suggestions they should loosen rules such as those for prospectuses.

Big questions include why the Securities Commission didn’t police finance companies more thoroughly.

While a long grey cloud of apathy lies over NZ, Americans have gone to the opposite extreme in calling for Apple Inc’s scalp over the possibly terminal illness of its brilliant leader Steve Jobs. This is capitalism’s savage tooth-and-claw side.

Jobs, soon to turn 54, is a great industrialist and entrepreneur by any measure. Since 1976, when he and Steve Wozniak, members of the Palo Alto Home Brew Computer Club, released the first Apple 1, Jobs has been a computer pioneer. In 1977, the pair released the famous Apple II. Twenty-five years ago came the Macintosh, which changed the way we use computers.

In his second stint with Apple, Jobs revived the company. He moved it to Intel processors, introduced new operating systems and made the company wealthy with innovative iPod music players and iPhone mobile devices.
Jobs underwent surgery for pancreatic cancer in July 2004. He appeared to have recovered and kept the pace on at Apple. Investor speculation about Jobs’s health rose with his increasingly haggard appearance in the past six months.

Jobs consistently played down his illness until on January 14 he stood down from Apple for six months.

America’s Securities Exchange Commission is investigating whether Apple kept the market fully informed about Jobs’s health. Any analyst could see the decline in Jobs’s health from the increasing emaciation in media pictures.

It’s common knowledge that many senior medicos encourage cancer sufferers to believe positive thinking and optimism enhance survival chances.

Jobs’s bullish words about his cancer would have reflected his sincere belief as well as his hope. Jobs has been slipshod about business rules from time to time. For example, there is unrest about the exercise price of some Apple options.

Regardless, with Jobs potentially about to go into the final rounds of his bout with cancer, investor and SEC pursuit of Jobs seems callous. Especially when going free and untroubled are many who enriched themselves from the credit default swaps that have almost sunk world commerce.

Just like most of NZ’s finance-company “wizards”, they seem more than bulletproof. Apart from the handful appearing in court, most are invisible.

Western society favours financial flakes over technology geniuses at present.

Neill Birss will chase up your biz tips: neillb@maxnet.co.nz