Wanted: Stock investors with time and money to support profitable, well-run companies


“Corporate managers get the shareholders they deserve.” That old saying has rarely been more important. In today’s corporate proxy battles, when the margin of victory can be slight, managers and shareholders alike are subject to control by thin majorities. That’s why savvy corporate leaders sculpt their shareholder base. 

How? One way is via the bully pulpit, to deter shareholders unaligned with corporate philosophy. For example, at a Starbucks
US:SBUX
 shareholders meeting, CEO Howard Schultz once told a critic of the company’s hiring practices to sell the stock. In a letter to shareholders of The Washington Post Co., CEO Don Graham once stressed the company’s long-term outlook, adding: “If you are a shareholder and YOU care about our quarterly results, perhaps you should think about selling the stock.”

Besides hectoring to deter, many corporate practices are useful in attracting a certain shareholder base, one that is both patient and focused. This cohort was dubbed by Warren Buffett as “high quality shareholders” (QSs for short). While not rubber-stamps for incumbent directors or strategies, their voting records suggest a focus that makes them more knowledgeable than indexers or proxy advisers, and a patience that makes them more willing than transient shareholders to credit and support long-term thinking. 

Evidence shows an association between high densities of QSs in a company and the managerial quest for superior corporate performance. Why? One possibility is that QSs are drawn to companies which boast competitive advantages that boost performance and deflect rivals’ threats. Often referred to as “moats,” these include economies of scale, distribution systems, patents, network effects and brand strength. 

Rankings of some 500 companies by moat strength are regularly tallied by investment researcher Morningstar, and rankings of some 2,000 companies by QS density have been developed by the Quality Shareholder Initiative at George Washington University.

Comparing 200 companies common to both lists, one-third of the Morningstar moats are in the top 10% of the QSI ranking, two-thirds are in the top 25%; and the overwhelming majority — almost 90% — are in the top half. In other words, the data confirm widely known anecdotal evidence that moats attract QSs.   

Leaders in both moat strength and QS density

Among moats, brand strength appears to be a particular magnet for QSs. There is a strong association between managers regarded as the best stewards of great brands and QSI rankings. For instance, among U.S. managers ranked in the global elite for brand guardianship, a total of 38 executives, all but one are in the top half of the QSI rankings. In short, managers wishing to attract more QSs should invest in brand strength and other moats.

Leaders in both brand strength and QS density

A more intriguing reason why high densities of QSs are associated with corporate outperformance is that the QS cohort is itself a source of competitive advantage, akin to network effects.  These arise when a system’s value increases as more people use it.  In most cases, network effects represent a tangible benefit to customers, as with fax machines in the old days and social media today.  

Similar advantages can arise from a network of QSs. As a group, QSs are more likely than other major shareholder cohorts — such as indexers or transients — to care about the identity of fellow shareholders. This “birds of a feather” effect is visible among the companies held by leading QSs, such as those listed below.

Leading QSs that may draw fellow QSs 

Baker Brothers

Baupost Group

Berkshire Hathaway
US:BRK
 

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 Blue Harbour

Cantillon Capital     

Capital Research Global

Fiduciary Management

Gates Foundation

Kensico Capital

Lone Pine Capital

Southeastern Asset Management

Temasek Holdings

Companies tap into the broader QS ecosystem, where members tend to know one another or know of one another. Resulting network effects reinforce all the advantages of a high-density QS base of patient and knowledgeable shareholders.

The QS cohort may also help brand a company. After all, consumer brands become competitive advantages when they assure that consumers recognize product features. A corporate reputation for attracting QSs is a competitive advantage when a company repeatedly commits to the values patient focused shareholders appreciate, including long-term performance metrics and rational capital allocation policies. 

To reach patient and focused individual QSs, many companies cultivate reputations among both consumers and shareholders. Examples include Churchill Downs
US:CHDN
 , where shareholders enjoy many racing days throughout the year and enthusiastic support of the Kentucky Derby day; Harley-Davidson
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 , where shareholders ride their “hogs” in caravans to the annual meeting, and others whose brands and owners focus on particular sustainability commitments, such as Patagonia.  

Whatever explains the association between high densities of QSs and corporate outperformance, managers and companies alike benefit from having many QSs on the shareholder list. When ownership of corporate equity is dominated, as it is today, by unfocused indexers and impatient traders, such a cohort of QSs will often be the swing vote in corporate proxy battles. Properly courted and catered to, these loyal shareholders can determine the outcome of elections, as well as the course of corporate prosperity. 

Lawrence A. Cunningham is a professor and director of the Quality Shareholders Initiative at George Washington University.  He owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway. His new book is Quality Shareholders: How the Best Managers Attract and Keep Them.  Register for his upcoming free book talk hosted by the Museum of American Finance and Fordham University here.

More: Here’s evidence that putting customers and employees first turns out to be profitable for a company’s stockholders too

Plus: Warren Buffett knows these are the best investors to follow with your own money



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The electric car frenzy is helping even troubled companies raise big money


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The conventional path to taking a company public is pretty simple: demonstrate some early success, then sell shares for capital that can be used to expand. This year, electric vehicle startups have gone public in droves on those terms, with multibillion-dollar valuations doled out to innovators like QuantumScape, a battery developer, and Hyliion, which makes electrified powertrains for freight trucks.

EVs are so hot right now that startups don’t need to be particularly promising or novel to nab funding. Raising money before turning a profit is no longer particularly notable, but when it comes to EVs, years of outright failure are apparently just fine by some investors.

The latest example came early this month when EV startup Faraday Future announced that it is negotiating to go public via a Special Purpose Acquisition Company or SPAC. The company aims to raise $850 million to fund its first commercial electric car. SPACs, also known as “blank check companies,” are a quick path to public fundraising that has seen a massive surge in popularity this year, particularly in the EV realm, largely because the method is faster than a conventional initial public offering.

But that speed—which entails somewhat less financial transparency and public scrutiny than a traditional IPO—may not serve investors well. After all, Faraday has already burned through $2 billion without producing a vehicle, thanks to a variety of financial and operational problems.

But Faraday wouldn’t be alone: Two other EV companies with checkered histories, Fisker and Karma Automotive, have secured or are pursuing major new funding. It’s a remarkable indicator of the promise investors see in EVs—or, maybe, of a market craze that has lost touch with reality.

Faraday’s failure

If and when Faraday Future hits public markets, it will bear a huge legacy of mismanagement and alleged deceptive behavior by its founder, Jia Yueting.

Jia started Faraday Future in 2014 using funds from his massive China-based conglomerate, LeEco. But as early as 2016, Faraday was wracked by problems including unpaid bills, canceled factories, and an opaque relationship with LeEco’s EV effort that reportedly drew resources away from Faraday’s own work.

Some of those problems stemmed from problems at Jia’s other company; LeEco was at the time relying on huge debt, much of it drawn from China’s “shadow banking” sector, to fund aggressive expansion. That bet went very badly: LeEco has since gone through massive layoffs and shed many of its subsidiaries.

Most shocking of all, it soon became clear that Jia was personally on the hook for a staggering $3.6 billion worth of liabilities stemming from LeEco’s collapse. That led Jia to declare personal bankruptcy, but his creditors accused him of using a variety of deceptions to hide assets and escape his debts.

Fisker’s bad Karma

Fisker hasn’t dealt with anything like the chaos at Faraday, but it is tarnished by arguably avoidable failure. The company in July announced plans to go public via a SPAC and raise around $1 billion at a $2.9 billion valuation. But Fisker is the second electric vehicle startup from founder Henrik Fisker—and the first, Fisker Automotive, was a flop.

Fisker Automotive was founded in 2007 and collapsed by 2013 after the failure of its first model, the luxury gasoline-electric hybrid Fisker Karma. Though widely praised for its design, the vehicle suffered from inconsistent production quality, supply chain problems, and technical issues. Only about 2,000 were ever produced.

The remains of Fisker Automotive were sold to a Chinese auto-parts maker and spun out as Karma Automotive. Karma Automotive has since produced a rebranded version of the Fisker Karma, now known as the Karma Revero, though in small quantities; only about 1,000 Karma Reveros were reportedly sold in 2019. But Karma Automotive, too, recently announced plans to go public, aiming to raise $300 million in an IPO.

What changed?

So what has changed to help investors look past these companies’ troubled roots?

“Even with all of the internal and external forces we’ve encountered, we are still moving forward,” said John Schilling, a spokesperson for Faraday Future, of the company’s prospects. The $2 billion invested so far, he says, positions Faraday well for the future: “We have our own technology…robust manufacturing capabilities, and can begin production quickly.”

But the most significant change at Faraday is that Jia Yueting no longer owns shares in the company. Jia’s power had been cited as a significant deterrent to new investors, given his track record, but he gave up his ownership stake as part of his personal bankruptcy. He does still have a significant role at Faraday, though, as its “chief product and user-eco officer.”

Despite the failure of the Karma, Fisker’s baggage isn’t nearly so heavy. The Karma was a real trailblazer, hitting the market before the Tesla Model S. And a Fisker spokesperson emphasized that “the company we’re building today draws on all of the lessons learned from the past.”

Among other things, that has meant shifting focus from a high-end sports sedan to a mid-market all-electric SUV, expected to go on sale in 2022. Fisker recently signed up contract builder Magna Steyr, which also produces EVs for the likes of Mercedes-Benz and Toyota, to produce the car. And unlike Faraday, Fisker says it already has enough funding to produce its debut vehicle, describing its fundraising as “another way to de-risk.”

In September, Karma Automotive announced a major transition of its own. It plans to roll out a new slate of fully electric vehicles, including a pickup and SUV, starting in 2021. It has also added some notable talent, including chief operating officer Kevin Pavlov, formerly of Magna.

Broader market changes have also made EVs generally more appealing to investors. In September, California declared that all cars sold in the state must be zero-emission—primarily meaning electric—by 2035, which can be expected to expand the EV market substantially. And continued declines in the cost of batteries could soon make EVs price-competitive with gas-burning cars and trigger a rapid, market-wide shift to EVs.

But really, Fisker’s and Faraday’s ability to raise money hinges on one word: Tesla. Elon Musk’s company has seen a staggering stock run-up over the past 12 months, as the idea of an EV-dominated future catches on. Fisker, Faraday Future, and Karma Automotive all acknowledge that the active investment market influenced their decision to pursue a public offering right now. As long as the EV growth story holds up, investors will likely be happy to hand over money to other EV makers, even if their halos are slightly tarnished.

More must-read tech coverage from Fortune:



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JD(U) releases its manifesto;seeks to know from rivals source of money for fulfilling its poll promises


Patna: The ruling JD(U) on Thursday released its manifesto for the Bihar polls, promising progressive schemes under second leg of the ‘seven resolves’ of good governance in the next five years if it returned to power. Apart from outlining its future plans for the development of Bihar,Chief Minister Nitish Kumar led party also referred to poll promises made by the rival Grand Alliance, including approving 10 lakh jobs, and sought to know from where would they manage Rs five lakh crore additional money that will be required for fulfilling their “lofty” announcements. It also hit out at the Congress, an ally of the RJD in Mahagathbandhan, for announcing that it would review the prohibition laws in force in the state and mocked at it for putting photograph of Mahatama Gandhi in its manifesto but talking about ending laws against liquor consumption, which father of the nation always espoused.

Bihar unit President of the JD(U) Basistha Narayan Singh and its working president Ashok Chaudhary released the party manifesto for the three-phase state elections at a press conference here. The manifesto puts a stamp to Kumar’s assertions that after completion of “Saat Nischay” (seven resolves) part I in his 2015-20 term, his future government would launch part II of it if voted back to power.

The first part of the seven resolves comprised seven schemes to ensure basic necessities such as supply of piped drinking water, construction of toilets and concrete drains and electricity connection to every household, which the chief minister has said many times have almost been achieved. Its second part will focus on enhancing skill of youths to brighten their jobs prospect, promoting entrepreneurship among women by providing them financial assistance, irrigation facility to every agriculture field and additional health facilities for people and animals. Giving details, the manifesto promised that it would open centre of excellence in the Industrial Training Institute (ITIs) in every district and Polytechnic at Sub Division levels to provide training to youths in the advanced technology of optical fibre, solar, internet banking and transformer manufacturing among others to perk up the chance to get employment. It also declared that a new department of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship will be set up for the purpose. For further empowering women, it said Rs 5 lakh grant and interest-free loan of the same amount would be provided to a woman starting a new venture.

The JD(U) manifesto also promised providing irrigation water to every farm land, installing solar lights on the streets of every villages, homes for senior citizens and urban poor and additional health facilities for the citizens as well as for the animals. Kumar who had talked about seven resolves part II in his first media interaction after announcement of dates for the three-phase polls in Bihar, has been profusely talking about his future plans at his election meetings.

In addition to underscoring its own poll promises, the JD(U) categorically highlighted some of the “lofty” announcements made by the rivals including providing 10 lakh jobs and sought to know from where the money needed for them would come.

Regarding Tejashwi Yadav’s much trumpeted 10 lakh jobs approval in the first cabinet of the future grand alliance ministry, that includes filling 4.5 lakh existing vacancies and creating 5.5 lakh new jobs, the JD(U) leaders said it would incur Rs 58,000 crore additional money and sought to know from where would it come.

Similarly for realising declaration of giving employment under MGNREGA to every individual in place of existing each households and increasing mandays from 100 to 200, they sought to know the source of Rs 53,000 lakh crore that would be needed for the purpose.

In addition, for doubling up honorarium of aganwadi and ASHA workers, librarirans and cooks under mid-day meal scheme among others a sum of Rs 4150 cr would be required, they said and queried about the source of it.

The JD(U) leaders said that the state at present has a budget of Rs 2,11,000 crore which includes Rs 1.06 lakh crore non-plan expenditure like paying salaries etc and rest of the money for planned expenditures under different heads. “An assessment of their series of announcements shows that a sum of Rs 1,44,500 crore additional money every year would be needed,” they said and queried the leaders of the principal rival coalition from where would the additional expenses come. On the Congress promise in its manifesto for the Bihar polls that it would review prohibition laws and bring necessary amendments to it, the JD(U) leaders said “they have displayed photograph of Mahatama Gandhi in its vision document but talking against the laws to prevent consumption of alcohol which the father of the nation always championed”.

Kumar government has declared Bihar a dry state since April 2016.





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Crown Resorts missed red flags of possible money laundering involving VIP high rollers, inquiry told


Crown Resorts chairwoman Helen Coonan has admitted the casino giant missed red flags of possible money laundering involving VIP high rollers.

Ms Coonan, a former federal Liberal senator, faced a second day of questions at the Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority (ILGA) hearing on Tuesday.

She was quizzed on the company’s processes to detect potential criminal activity through its gaming business.

The ILGA is investigating if Crown is suitable to hold the licence for Sydney’s new casino at Barangaroo, after revelations it was allegedly turning a blind eye to money laundering by criminals who were flown into Australia by junket operators.

Financial crimes regulator AUSTRAC yesterday announced it was investigating Crown for potential breaches of Australia’s anti-money-laundering and terrorism-financing laws after revelations in the inquiry to date.

The inquiry has been told ANZ and Commonwealth Bank closed down accounts owned by Crown’s subsidiary companies, after suspicious deposits into the accounts for its VIP high rollers.

ANZ closed the accounts in 2014 while Commonwealth Bank closed accounts in 2019.

During questioning, counsel assisting Nicole Sharp asked why it took the board until August to consider an internal investigation into the allegations.

“Isn’t this simply a matter of too little, too late?” she asked.

“I think it’s better to be too late than not at all,” Ms Coonan answered.

She said Crown had formally engaged an internal review in January.

The inquiry is investigating if Crown is suitable to hold the licence for Sydney’s new casino at Barangaroo.(ABC News: James Carmody)

The inquiry was told Crown continued to partner with a number of junket operators up until this year, despite revelations some had connections to organised crime.

Evidence was tendered to the inquiry showing overseas businesses had deposited millions of dollars into a handful of patron accounts run by the casino for various high rollers, with little oversight of where the money had come from.

In 2016, one company was found to have deposited $31.8 million into 20 patron accounts.

Ms Sharp asked why the casino had not been keeping track of who was depositing the money.

“This does at least raise a red flag for the prospect of money laundering does it not?”

“I agree with you,” Ms Coonan answered.

Ms Coonan admitted the set-up should have had more oversight.

“I don’t think the magnitude of deposits are really the key, it’s the pattern and whether or not there are suspicions that should be triggering further inquiries,” she said.

In her closing remarks, Ms Coonan appealed to Commissioner Patricia Bergin for Crown to maintain the licence for the new Sydney casino.

She said the company would “respect” any recommendations expected in her findings and there were “lessons to be learned”.

“I have great regret that this inquiry has run the course it’s run,” Ms Coonan said.

“Sometimes you come out of these processes better than when you went into them.

“I certainly want to give you the assurance that as the leader of this company, I’m ready to stay the course and ready to ensure that what we see as the necessary changes are implemented and adhered to if given the privilege to be able to continue.”

The hearing continues.



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These money and investing tips can help you enjoy a smoother ride down Wall Street


Don’t miss these top money and investing features:

These money and investing stories, popular with MarketWatch readers over the past week, offer advice and suggestions to help you manage your portfolio during what historically has been the U.S. stock market’s most bumpy and unpredictable month.

INVESTING NEWS & TRENDS
You may be able to nearly triple your return with U.S. Treasurys

This little-known alternative with an attractive and guaranteed long-term return
You may be able to nearly triple your return with U.S. Treasurys



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Melbourne Cup 2019 what time is the race, who is the favouirite, final field and barrier draw, prize money, odds


The race that stops the nation, the Melbourne Cup, is nearly upon us again.

A field of 24 international and local horses will contest the race over 3200m at Flemington on Tuesday, with a whopping $8 million in prizemoney on offer.

Here are the key things you need to know ahead of the 159th running of the great race.

WHEN IS IT ON?

As always, the first Tuesday in November — this year falling on the 5th.



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Superannuation reforms must deliver better value for money


Currently savers are allocated a new super fund each time they start a job unless they choose one of their own and each fund has its own flat fee. But under new “stapling” rules, savers will keep the same fund when they change jobs.

The Australian Prudential Regulation Authority will also compile a list of funds that perform badly and they will have to tell their members they are on the list. They will also be banned from signing up new members. In most cases it is expected the bad funds will have to merge with better managed funds to stay afloat.

APRA will have to take care to compare funds fairly on an apples-for-apples basis. Some super funds which invest in things such as toll roads and gas pipelines that yield good returns over time have expressed concern that if the league tables measure performance over too short a time it will reduce the supply of patient capital.

The budget also imposes a broad duty on super funds to act in the best financial interests of members. If this makes super trusts think carefully about expenditure it could help reduce fees.

Industry Super Australia, a lobby group representing the bigger industry funds that mostly charge lower fees, complains that the changes do not go far enough. While the early release scheme has put the spotlight on super, most people still pay so little attention to their balance that they would probably do nothing even if they receive an official letter telling them their fund is on a list of duds. ISA says the government should force consolidation of existing accounts and impose even tighter checks on underperformers.

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Another big question facing the federal government is whether to proceed with the legislated increase of the compulsory superannuation guarantee levy from 9.5 per cent to 12 per cent of wages. The Herald has argued that raising the rate, starting from July 1 next year, would impede economic recovery by slowing wage growth. It argues the rise should wait until a broad review of the role of super tax breaks in retirement savings.

For instance, the federal budget has introduced an anomaly for low income earners paid between $37,000 and $45,000. The tax free threshold has been raised to $45,000 but tax of 15 per cent will still be paid on compulsory deposits into super for people earning more than $37,000. It is unjust to penalise people, especially fairly low income earners, who are forced to put money into super.

A future review should make sure that super is efficient and the benefits flow primarily to those who would otherwise be at risk of poverty in retirement.

Note from the Editor

The Herald editor Lisa Davies writes a weekly newsletter exclusively for subscribers. To have it delivered to your inbox, please sign up here.



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Nathan Buckley press conference, Jordan De Goey, money, trade


Collingwood coach Nathan Buckley has revealed Jordan De Goey’s future will be motivated by money, saying the 24-year-old’s camp’s highest priority is the dollar figure that will accompany his next contract.

De Goey remains uncontracted beyond 2020 and there were whispers during the week Carlton is chasing him during this year’s trade period.

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The star forward has indicated he is keen to re-sign with Collingwood — and Buckley is on the same page — but the Pies mentor suggested people around the young gun are most interested in chasing cash.

Buckley made the comments in a lengthy post-mortem on Collingwood’s season following a historic 68-point thrashing at the hands of Geelong in their semi-final on Saturday night.

“Jordy loves the club,” Buckley told reporters.

“He wants to be here. Elements of people on his side would like to see him remunerated as well as he possibly could and we want him to be rewarded appropriately as well. As we do with the other 44 players on the list for what they bring to the table.

“I think that is what it comes down to.

“There is no lack of belief in what the place does for him and the opportunities it provides — and the love and care and connection that he has to not only the club, but also his teammates.

“There still needs to be a monetary outcome that is satisfactory to both parties.”

Buckley also suggested he expects De Goey to talk to other clubs and explore the market.

Carlton has reportedly built up a war chest to chase big names this off-season. It has already secured rebounding defender Zac Williams from GWS on a monster five-year deal, while Essendon star Adam Saad wants out of the Bombers to join the Blues.

Footy legends Tim Watson and Garry Lyon led the speculation on breakfast radio during the week that Carlton had eyes for De Goey, claiming the Blues were “keen” on the talented youngster.

De Goey is negotiating with Collingwood without the assistance of an accredited manager with reports claiming it is one of the reasons the deal with the Pies is being held up.

RELATED: Eddie McGuire’s face says it all

RELATED: Footy world reacts to Collingwood’s ultimate humiliation

A shell-shocked Buckley was at a loss to explain his team’s capitulation just a week after recording one of Collingwood’s greatest ever finals win with a one-point victory over West Coast in Perth.

The Pies managed just one scoring shot in the first half against Geelong — their worst finals effort since 1960 — as they went to the main break trailing 9.6 (60) to 1.0 (6).

“It just looked like we couldn’t go and Geelong were a lot sharper than us,” Buckley said. “It was as comprehensive a loss that you’re going to see.

“At some point it looked like our players had just lost their hope to get the result.

“We fought it out in some shape or form but even that, we’re not gonna hang our hats on that. Geelong was far too good.

“It’s fair to say our board was red from one minute into the game for the rest of the game. Contested ball, ground ball, territory, positive territory turnovers, marks.

“The only way I can comprehend a result like tonight is that we had nothing more to give.”



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AFL 2020 | Money the sticking point with Jordan De Goey, says Nathan Buckley


“Jordy loves the club and he wants to be here. Elements of people on his side would like to see him remunerated as well as he possibly could and, you know, we want him to be rewarded appropriately as we do the other 44 blokes on our list for what they bring to the table,” Buckley said following the club’s 68-point drubbing by an impressive Geelong.

“I think that’s what it comes down to because … it’s not for lack of belief in what the place has done for him, what it brings for him and the opportunity it provides and the love and care and connection to not only the club but in particular his teammates.

“But yes, there still needs to be a monetary outcome that is satisfactory for both parties.”

De Goey is one of four key players Collingwood are yet to re-sign with Darcy Moore, Brody Mihocek and Josh Daicos uncontracted for next season. The Magpies are hopeful of securing the quartet however they have been keen for clarity on list sizes and total player payments before locking them in.

Mihocek has received a three-year offer after being the leading goalkicker this season and Collingwood are comfortable with the progress of negotiations regarding 2020 All-Australian Moore, who has stated he wants to remain a Magpie.

Buckley was not fussed at the prospect other clubs were targeting DeGoey, who does not have a manager, or that he may have had discussions with them.

“Most players do [meet other clubs]. If they don’t their managers will. We’re in an open market,” Buckley said.

The disappointed coach, who admitted he was shocked at the non-competitive performance, said the Magpies would target several areas of need throughout the trade period after a season that failed to reach any heights.

In acknowledging the much-discussed key forward weakness he said they were disappointed they could not play Will Kelly in 2020 after he broke his arm on debut and they were conscious it was an area that needed to be strengthened.

“I know key forward is the area [of need but] we still need to replenish our midfield … that might be a target area,” Buckley said.

“Outside run, high forwards and wingers might be an area that we need to look at. I think our backs are pretty set.”

Buckley said their performance against Geelong was so poor the only obvious explanation was that they were spent after their heroic elimination final win over West Coast.

“The players generally give everything that they have got so the only way I can comprehend a result like tonight is that we had nothing more to give,” Buckley said.

“One of the words I suppose to describe how we feel at the moment is shock and you do, you feel like that when you get ambushed and there is no doubt we were ambushed.”

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