Qantas shake-up fizzles as suitors exit with millions
IN THE end, the bold talk of shaking up an underperforming Qantas under the guise of shareholder activism ended with little fanfare but a tidy $18 million profit.
Led by investor Mark Carnegie, the consortium - which features prominent business identities including former Qantas chief executive and current Tourism Australia boss Geoff Dixon, and former Qantas chief financial officer Peter Gregg - had hoped for support from large institutional shareholders, such as Mr Carnegie enjoys in two of his other plays, Brickworks and Fairfax Media.
But it is believed the support did not materialise and last week the group sold off its 1.5 per cent stake, putting to bed a push for an alternative strategy, including a more aggressive expansion into Asia.
The Emirates tie-up with Qantas was also a factor.
But the quiet exit from Qantas has left some in the market scratching their heads, sceptical whether the consortium - which also has ties to ad man John Singleton and retailer Gerry Harvey - genuinely held hopes of garnering enough support to effect change, or if it simply wanted to generate enough momentum to sell the stake at a profit.
The consortium bought in as Qantas shares flirted with a record low of 97¢ last June. Shares in Qantas closed 1.5¢, or 1 per cent, lower at $1.50 on Wednesday.
Mr Carnegie has positioned his $130 million Companion Fund as a potential agitator for change at underperforming companies.
While he was unable to attract sufficient support when it came to Qantas, he at least demonstrated the potential profitability of his operating model.
"Carnegie is definitely keen on building an image of someone who can shake things up and make a change, there's no doubt about that," one institutional Qantas shareholder said. One of the major shareholders Mr Carnegie and his associates failed to win over was Balanced Equity, whose managing director Andrew Sisson famously stared down an $11 billion private equity bid for Qantas back in 2007.
"I don't understand why it got as much publicity as it did," Mr Sisson said.
"End of the day, they've gone in, bought some stock and made a bit of money, that's what we're all trying to do, isn't it?"
Mr Carnegie and old mate John Singleton have also bought a 0.15 per cent stake in Fairfax Media, owner of The Age. Their investment vehicle Gutenberg Investments has formed an alliance with the media group's largest shareholder, Gina Rinehart's Hancock Prospecting.
Mr Carnegie is also pushing for the break-up of the cross-shareholding between building materials concern Brickworks and investment house Washington Soul Pattinson.
Mr Carnegie declined to comment.