Aussie businessman 'interested' in Qantas
MADELEINE HEFFERNAN AND MATT O'SULLIVAN
Multimillionaire Australian ad-man John Singleton has declared he is ''always interested'' in potential deals and described Qantas as an undervalued airline that had a future, but remained tight-lipped on reports he is part of a consortium eyeing the national carrier.
Speculation that a consortium led by former Qantas boss Geoff Dixon is looking to take over the airline has been sparked by the company's share price collapse.
Mr Singleton has been named as a possible member of that consortium.
''I'm always interested,'' Mr Singleton said yesterday.
''Always have been. Everything I've bought in my life has been because I've thought, I'd rather have that ... Qantas, if you bought all its shares for A$1 billion tomorrow, you'd have A$3 billion in cash in that company. Cash. It costs you A$1 billion to buy A$3 billion - is that a good deal or not?
''I'm interested in anything ... I'll buy anything that's got A$3 billion in cash. I wouldn't be worried about Qantas,'' he said. ''Qantas has got a future.''
Mr Singleton refused to confirm if he, Mr Dixon and venture capitalist Mark Carnegie were part of a consortium that was about buy a cornerstone stake in Qantas.
''They're friends of mine, and we own pubs,'' Mr Singleton said. ''I'm not saying it's true or not true. I've been in business now 50 years. I've never confirmed or denied any move of mine in 50 years. Do you think I'm going to change now?''
He did confirm he had just finished a business meeting with Mr Carnegie when contacted.
Qantas boss Alan Joyce has admitted the airline has set up a defence team to prepare for a ''whole range of scenarios'' but said it had not received any takeover offers.
Mr Joyce also insisted that he was ''not talking to any airline'' about it buying a large shareholding in Australia's largest airline.
Emirates and British Airways both ruled out any interest in taking an equity stake yesterday, despite Qantas shares still trading at near record lows.
''I can absolutely confirm that we have not been approached by anybody,'' Mr Joyce said. ''But companies prepare for a lot of things.''
This has not stopped Qantas from preparing its defences for a destabilisation strategy if a hostile group of investors snaps up a cornerstone stake in the airline. Qantas shares rallied 11 per cent, or 10.5Ac, to A$1.075 yesterday, offering a brief respite after a week in which more than A$1 billion was wiped from its market value.
Apart from setting up an internal defence team, Qantas is seeking advice on a defence strategy from bankers at Macquarie Group and is using Citigroup to closely watch its share register for signs of unusual levels of trading.
The internal defence team includes Mr Joyce and Simon Hickey, boss of Qantas' international operations, who, with other Qantas executives, are in Beijing this week for an airline conference.
With the airline's market capitalisation at just A$2.45 billion, a large group of investors will find it much easier to raise the funds necessary to buy a stake of between 10 and 15 per cent while meeting the conditions of the Qantas Sale Act.
The legislation limits foreign ownership of Qantas to a total of 49 per cent, while capping a single investor at 35 per cent and a foreign airline at 15 per cent.
Qantas fears a private equity consortium would look to break up the airline and sell off divisions such as the Frequent Flyer loyalty program, Jetstar and QantasLink.
Matt O'Sullivan travelled to Beijing courtesy of China Southern and IATA.
- Sydney Morning Herald