THE DISTILLERY: Target: Qantas

Jotters set their sights on Qantas' continued poor performance, while others ponder the quality of national account figures.

There’s been a decline in the appreciation that Australia’s business commentators have for the job that Alan Joyce is doing at Qantas Airways. The sense that Joyce had reclaimed control of the company’s destiny with the fleet grounding has faded now that concerns for the airline’s international arm and share price have worsened. Also in this morning’s edition of The Distillery, two economics editors are still scratching their heads over last week’s national accounts.

First, The Age’s Adele Ferguson says Qantas has gone from takeover predator to prey, with investors no longer able to tolerate the ‘good company, tough times’ narrative.

"Tough times have been a recurring theme at Qantas and the latest round of challenges – high oil prices, natural disasters, competitors that are government owned and therefore don't have to pacify shareholders, industrial action and mid-air emergencies – is nothing new. What is new, and is now the biggest threat to the airline, is the damage to its brand. The big winners from this have been its competitors, which are making strong inroads as Qantas continues to pare back its international routes and maintains a schizophrenic Asian strategy. The Qantas story is one the market no longer believes despite its having billions in cash and several strong businesses, including a dominant market share in Australia. This is the country's national carrier and it is the backbone of the multibillion-dollar tourism industry; for that reason a solution needs to be found – fast.”

Ferguson says Qantas is a takeover target, when once it was a predator. The Australian Financial Review’s Chanticleer columnist Tony Boyd has similar overtures in his analysis, where he warns Joyce to be careful providing commentary on the airline’s share price.

"The complaints are simply drawing attention to the weaknesses in the overall Qantas business model and the increasing competitive threat facing its domestic operations. Most CEOs know that the first rule of communications is never comment on your share price. It is a pointless exercise unless you back up the comments with something concrete such as better profit performance. Other ways to get market attention are to reveal a takeover approach or capital management. None of those options are on the table at Qantas at this stage. However, the appointment of a defence team led by Macquarie Capital shows the board of the company is feeling vulnerable.”

Elsewhere, The Australian’s economics editor David Uren expresses the lingering bewilderment of many to last week’s much stronger than expected quarterly GDP numbers.

"Economists have been all over last week's national accounts, and some are unsure whether they provide an accurate picture of the economy. Is it credible that prices in the construction industry remained absolutely flat in the midst of the mining boom last quarter? Is Victoria really second only to Western Australia in the strength of consumer spending? Where did the 2.5 per cent jump in wages in the past three months come from?”

The Sydney Morning Herald’s economics editor Ross Gittins says simply that economists have to take their medicine – they were wrong.

"In the absence of anything better, economists and the media persist in setting too much weight on the bureau's quarterly figures for state final demand, unaware that they give an exaggerated picture of the differences in gross state product between the mining and non-mining states (because Western Australia and Queensland use much of their income to buy goods and services from New South Wales and Victoria). The risk is the more we repeat the two-speed story the more it becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. This may be part of the explanation for the weakness in non-mining business investment spending, but as yet it doesn't seem to have affected consumer spending. The media's highlighting of announced job layoffs offers a classic example of the way their inevitably selective reporting of job movements leaves the public, business people and maybe even economists with a falsely negative impression of the state of the labour market.”

Staying with economics for a moment, The Age’s economics editor Tim Colebatch concedes that last week’s quarterly accounts numbers were very strong, but the outcome in Europe will present a big challenge for Australia’s enduring prosperity. In the wake of the rescue package for Spain’s banks, The Australian’s Richard Gluyas expects the real test for Madrid to come on June 17, when the Greeks go to the polls. The Australian’s John Durie says the problems inherent in Spanish banks remain.

The other big corporate story floating around besides the plight of Qantas is the battle for Echo Entertainment. The Australians’ Durie says in a separate piece that the departure of John Story and the arrival of Singapore’s Genting have complicated Packer’s life. The Sydney Morning Herald’s Ian Verrender says that Story’s exit from Echo has nullified Packer’s complaints about the company.

Meanwhile, The Australian’s Paul Garvey says much of the world is depending on Australian delivering on the LNG story.

And finally, The Age’s Ferguson finds Nationals parliament member John Williams stepping up his campaign against the power and influence of the two big supermarkets.

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