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Gerry Harvey rounds on 'short-sellers'

AAP logoAAP 14/11/2016 Petrina Berry and Marty Silk

Gerry Harvey claims gripes over Harvey Norman's accounting methods originate from short-sellers trying to drive down its share price.

The Harvey Norman chairman was quizzed by shareholders at the furniture and electronics retailer's annual general meeting over the accounts, in particular money referred to as "tactical support" and given to franchisees to cover sales, rent and buying stock.

The group's annual report revealed it had written off $566 million of these franchisee payments since 2011, which was not revealed in any of its financial reports.

Mr Harvey said on Monday that fresh questions about the transparency of his franchisees' accounts - which the Australian Shareholders Association (ASA) wants investigated by the Australian Securities and Investment Commission - have been completely manufactured by traders who recently sold Harvey Norman stock.

"They sold all those shares, they made a big loss, a big loss, and now they're trying to do all things possible to dent the company so the share price drops so they can reduce their loss," he told AAP.

ASIC's most recent short position table, as of the November 8, shows 2.9 per cent of Harvey Norman's stock has been shorted, while the short positions on rival JB Hi-Fi accounted for 3.3 per cent of shares.

A spokesman from proxy adviser Ownership Matters, which recommended shareholders reject Harvey Norman's accounts at Monday's meeting, said there was no conspiracy with investors holding short positions on the stock but rather a call for more transparency.

"All we are saying is 'put the critics to rest and improve transparency for shareholders'," the spokesman said.

"The moment you bring franchisees' accounts onto your balance sheet, then you're not talking about whether debt has been forgiven, you are showing the health of the network because when the person walks out of the store that's a sale to you."

ASA representative Allan Goldin said Harvey Norman is a publicly listed company that was behaving like a private company.

"We want greater transparency," he said.

"We also want ASIC to take a look and say whether what they are doing is right or not. We want greater clarity."

Shares in Harvey Norman closed down 16 cents, or 3.4 per cent, at $4.54.

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