Take stock – March 30

The Montreal Canadiens aren’t even officially for sale yet but speculation is already swirling over who would buy one of the economic crown jewels of the National Hockey League

The Montreal Canadiens aren’t even officially for sale yet but speculation is already swirling over who would buy one of the economic crown jewels of the National Hockey League.

Could it be Rene Angelil, the mastermind behind pop megastar Celine Dion? What about the Cirque du soleil? Or even the Quebec’s pension-fund manager, the Caisse de depot et placement? The debate has spilled onto the floor of Quebec’s legislature, where Premier Jean Charest stickhandled around Parti Quebecois shots that the government would be better off investing in a Montreal hockey team than money-losing British airports.

The giant pension-fund manager can certainly sympathize with the Habs — the Caisse has also been roundly lambasted for its uninspired performance of late.

Caisse chairman Robert Tessier allows it’s “a very good question” when he’s buttonholed about any interest by the Caisse in the team. The board would be duty-bound to look at any proposals but the decision would fall to the pension fund managers and president Michael Sabia, he said. And, he added, a return on the investment would be “essential.” The Caisse buying the Habs is not a far-fetched idea. The powerful Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan has a stake in the Toronto Maple Leafs and members sit on the board. Karl Moore, a business professor at McGill University, says that while the Canadiens have valuable assets and it would be great to have a local owner, it all comes down to price and whether or not the franchise is a good investment. The Caisse would also have to take into account that buying what to many Quebecers is a piece of their heart is a lot different than scooping up some real estate. It could even be a distracting investment, Moore said. “It’s an emotionally engaging investment for anyone in Quebec,” he said. “It would be something where it would be almost inevitable that you would be drawn to spending time there when you really should be focused on your job of managing the investments which are now in Quebec but also worldwide.”

He would advise the Caisse, which lost close to $40 billion in 2008, to take a cue from current majority shareholder George Gillett and be a hands-off owner if it did get involved. “Running the team is something that many general managers struggle with and they are men with enormous experience in the field,” he said. “To think that some financial analyst or some manager at the Caisse can tell the team how to do a better job is suspect in my mind.”

— The Canadian Press

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