James Thomson Editor

James Thomson is the editor of BRW. Previously he was editor and publisher of SmartCompany and a senior editor at Business Spectator. He writes regularly on Australia's wealthiest entrepreneurs and has deep expertise in small business and the mid market.

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Nathan Tinkler is back – but can he turn things around?

Published 15 March 2013 09:11, Updated 18 March 2013 08:24

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Nathan Tinkler is back – but can he turn things around?

Nathan Tinkler is back in Australia but appears to be running out of time to turn things around, with Whitehaven’s share price not looking likely to jump. Photo: Sasha Woolley

Nathan Tinkler is back, ladies and gentlemen.

Well, not back in the “heading back to the billionaires’ club” sense, but he is at least back in Australia, after flying from Singapore to Sydney to avoid being arrested as part of an inquiry into the collapse of his mining business, Mulsanne Resources.

Tinkler fronted the NSW Supreme Court yesterday as part of a liquidator’s public examination of the collapse; he had been threatened with arrest if he didn’t show.

Mulsanne was the company Tinkler set up to take a $29 million stake in coal hopeful Blackwood Corporation in May last year.

Back then, Tinkler was in a very different place. Coal prices were running hot and his stake in Whitehaven Coal was worth $1 billion.

Fast forward 12 months and it’s a different story. Coal prices are down, Tinkler’s Whitehaven stake is worth $500 million and reports suggest the young entrepreneur’s debts could be as high as $700 million.

Tinkler appears to be running out of time to turn things around, if that’s still even possible. But even after yesterday’s court appearance, we still don’t have a real sense of how much time he has.

What the hearings did suggest though, was that Tinkler’s relationship with his long-time supporter, Hong Kong commodities trader Noble Group, may be somewhat strained.

Tinkler told the court that his plans to take a one third stake in Mulsanne revolved around Noble buying a coal royalty for a similar price to the amount Tinkler was investing.

But when coal prices fell, all these deals fell apart.

“I put my faith in the wrong people,” Tinkler told the court.

Of course, what’s done is done. The bigger question is: Where to now for Tinkler?

Back to Singapore is probably the first answer. But his fate now appears largely tied to that of Whitehaven.

There would be little point in Tinkler’s financiers grabbing his Whitehaven stake now, when selling it wouldn’t raise enough to meet his debts.

But his backers wouldn’t want the stake to fall into the hands of an insolvency firm if any more of Tinkler’s private groups strike trouble.

The best result for Tinkler would be to see Whitehaven’s stock price jump – but unfortunately for the former star, that doesn’t look like happening any time soon.