Qantas in trading halt over S&P rating

Airline enters trading halt as PM says he may consider greater foreign stake.

Shares in Qantas Airways (QAN) have been placed in a trading halt pending a likely review of the national carrier's credit rating by Standard and Poor’s.

In a statement to the Australian Securities Exchange, Qantas said it considered the information would "likely to be materially price sensitive".

Qantas requested that the trading halt remain in place until the earlier of the time of the announcement or the commencement of trading on Monday.

The national carrier has forecast a six-month loss of up to $300 million, which it blames on the strong Australian dollar, high fuel costs and Virgin Australia "distorting" the market.

Qantas shares lost more than 11% yesterday after the announcement, closing at $1.07.

The news comes as Prime Minister Tony Abbott said he might consider allowing a greater foreign stake in Qantas, suggesting he would prefer that to the "bottomless pit" of taxpayer support.

It says "government action" will be key in enabling it to keep competing effectively.

But Mr Abbott has no time for the idea of taxpayer subsidies.

"Qantas has to get its house in order, that's what has to happen," he told Fairfax Radio on Friday.

"If we subsidise Qantas, why not subsidise everyone?

"And if we subsidise everyone, that's just a bottomless pit into which we will descend."

He says Qantas may be an iconic company but it's also a private company that must run itself competently and profitably.

"I am sure Qantas management are doing their best and let's hope they can get the business in a position where it can continue to operate profitably," he said.

But Mr Abbott suggested he may be open to changes to the Qantas Sale Act to allow greater foreign ownership.

He says while he would prefer to see the company kept in majority Australian hands he would be "happy to look at it" if Qantas proposed changes to the Act with no cost to taxpayers.

"If it's a choice between a greater foreign stake in Qantas and taxpayer subsidy I ask the people of Australia - what do you prefer?"

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