Toll road giant Macquarie Bank this week announced its intention to acquire the leading operator of red light cameras and speed cameras in the US. Macquarie, known for its skill in harnessing government guarantees to make itself a “millionaire’s factory,” made an offer to purchase Redflex Traffic Systems of Australia at the bargain price of A$2.50 a share.
“Redflex does not intend to make any further announcement in relation to the proposal unless and until a binding proposal capable of being put to shareholders is received,” the photo ticketing firm said in a statement Wednesday.
Redflex splits the automated ticketing market with American Traffic Solutions (ATS), an Arizona-based company that is already heavily invested in providing services to the toll road industry. Diversification away from red light cameras and speed cameras appears to be a wise move as support wanes for photo enforcement. Already, ten cities and fifteen states have banned automated ticketing machines (view list). At least two more cities will have votes to ban cameras in November. Both ATS and Redflex are also likely to be banned from operating anywhere in the state of Arizona as the anti-camera statewide ballot initiative gathers steam.
Macquarie used heavily leveraged debt to purchase the Indiana Toll Road, the Dulles Greenway in Virginia and the Skyway in Chicago, Illinois. In May 2007, New York hedge fund manager Jim Chanos was the first major analyst to suggest Macquarie’s financial structure was unsound — while the firm was at its peak. Chanos is most famous for being among the first to warn of Enron’s fall.
Because of its dependence on government action to turn a profit, Macquarie has made attempts to purchase elected officials in the US as well as local newspapers to shape public opinion. When former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani appeared to be the front runner for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination, the company poured an estimated $70 to $90 million into “Giuliani Capital Advisors.” Giuliani’s White House bid eventually collapsed. Macquarie also invested $80 million into buying Texas newspapers that had previously been critical of that state’s push for new toll roads.
Redflex shares jumped to $2.39 a share on news of the possible takeover from its 52-week low of $1.50.