THE DISTILLERY: Packer vs Rinehart

One jotter compares the business nous of James Packer and Gina Rinehart, while another questions Qantas flirts.

As the media spotlight lurches from Gina Rinehart's ambitions at Fairfax to James Packer's at Echo Entertainment, one commentator wonders how one billionaire can act so deftly, and the other so daftly. On the topic of wealthy agitators, another jotter examines Mark Carnegie's supposed interest in Qantas. And offshore, Fortescue's plans for a Hong Kong float look risky.

But first, in The Australian, Terry McCrann compares the modified takeover tactics of Gina Rinehart and James Packer. The dealmakers, pursuing Fairfax and Echo Entertainment respectively, have both said they would be happy with smaller stakes despite harbouring larger ambitions, but the slowly-slowly approach is only working for one of them.

"In contrast to the blinding clarity of – and upside in – Packer's ambitions with Echo, Rinehart's at Fairfax are, to put it bluntly and actually at its best, nonexistent. …She obviously has absolutely no idea about how to build a growth future – any future – for Fairfax. Arguably, nobody else does either. She also has no idea how to run a control game, as her share sale this week showed. You won't put me on the board because owning more than 15 per cent voids the directors' insurance policy, so I'll sell down below 15 per cent. And I'll have another whack at the chairman. Er, thank you, Mrs Rinehart, but we'll still not put you on the board. Unless and until you sign the independence charter. And now you've got (slightly) less voting firepower."

In the same newspaper, Turi Condon spots a new hurdle for Crown, which may be in for a fight for gaming space at the prized Barangaroo development in Sydney. It's not the only hotel hopeful, after all.

"Crown will face competition from other international hoteliers with pockets deep enough to fund the hotel's development. …And even before Lend Lease can open serious negotiations with hoteliers, it has to agree with the NSW government on exactly where the hotel will go. While the developer had approval to put the hotel on a site pushing out into the harbour, Mr O'Farrell has asked for the building to go back on dry land. Crown not only faces issues with Echo but also the complexities of becoming part of the nation's biggest urban regeneration project."

The Australian Financial Review's Chanticleer columnist, Michael Smith, revisits the on-again, off-again bid talk plaguing Qantas.

"It is unclear whether Carnegie and his good mates, former Qantas boss Geoff Dixon and advertising figure John Singleton, are serious or just enjoying the attention. Singleton is not shy about speaking publicly about the airline’s investment potential but he may just be teasing. Dixon and Carnegie are understandably not giving anything away. It has been suggested that Dixon’s former finance chief at Qantas, Peter Gregg, may be seeking a change of scene from strife-torn Leighton and could jump on board. One theory is they may not make a full bid but deploy an agitation strategy and get enough shareholder support to push for a board seat or even a management role, perhaps with the promise to sell off assets such as Frequent Flyer to boost returns."

The Australian's Paul Garvey looks at Fortescue's decision to merge its Pilbara magnetite assets with those of Chinese steel giant Baosteel, which he interprets as being a precursor to a listing of those assets in Hong Kong. But, he warns, it may be the wrong move.

"Hong Kong's once voracious appetite for new listings, which made it the world's biggest market for initial public offerings for the past three years, is showing real signs of waning. And Hong Kong's retail investor base is showing little interest in the resources sector. On top of that, the experience of Australian-listed Grange Resources, which exhaustively studied the option of a Hong Kong listing before walking away, reinforces why Fortescue may be better off pursuing other options for its magnetite projects."

The Australian Financial Review's Matthew Stevens heaps praise on Workplace Minister Bill Shorten, who he credits for solving a long, costly industrial dispute between the world’s biggest coking coal miner, BMA, and its three unions. Shorten's "master stroke," says Stephens, was convincing Bill Kelty to act as a mediator.

At Fairfax, Tim Colebatch spruces BusinessDay's half-yearly economics survey, in which private sector economists say Australia will dodge the eurozone crisis and continue to post solid growth figures.

And Adele Ferguson calls on the federal government to take on "the growing army of technically insolvent companies that systematically churn through suppliers with the intention of never paying them back." There may be up to 60,000 of these groups in Australia already, because the government's current system makes it too difficult for small businesses to chase after debts.

And finally, in the wake of a decidedly negative market reaction to interest rate cuts in Europe and China, Malcolm Maiden says investors are frightened that central banks "are running out of heavy ammo".

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