THE DISTILLERY: Ten in a tight spot

Jotters reflect on the pressure facing Ten as it prepares to pass the hat around, with one wondering what else the network has up its sleeve.

The trouble for Australia’s free-to-air broadcasters this year has often been viewed through the prism of Nine Entertainment’s debt troubles. Yesterday’s news that Ten Network is heading for another capital raising serves as a potent reminder of the true pecking order.

Fairfax’s Elizabeth Knight writes that the debt restructure at Nine Entertainment has heaped a truckload of pressure on both Seven Network and Ten.

"The market is now punting on some kind of raising from Seven, whose rating performance is now being seriously challenged by Nine. The decision by Ten to pass the hat around its shareholders to raise $225 million demonstrates only too clearly the financial predicament in which the company finds itself, thanks to a long-run slide in its share of the audience and a generally weak advertising market. For the second time this year Ten’s high-profile list of star shareholders, including Gina Rinehart, James Packer, Lachlan Murdoch and Bruce Gordon, will need to open their wallets to save the network from a knock at its door from its bankers. The fresh injection of cash also comes on the eve of the payment of its licence fee, due this month.”

Fairfax’s Colin Kruger says Ten’s board is coming under pressure, despite the support that its powerful shareholders are expected to throw behind this anticipated higher dilutive capital raising.

"Shareholder advocates and proxy advisors have already armed Ten shareholders with a scathing assessment of the company and recommendations to vote against the company’s remuneration report. The Australian Shareholders Association reported that, over the past two years, the company has fired an executive chairman, chief executive, chief operating officer, general manager sports, chief programming officer, group chief financial officer and general manager sales. In recent weeks Ten has also cut its newsroom by 100 staff in a brutal and public exercise. ‘So, is it working? Costs may be down but so are the ratings,’ the ASA reported.”

Business Spectator’s Stephen Bartholomeusz wondered what else Ten could possible be up to, given the statement from Ten appeared to indicate that there’s more to come.

"Ten said the trading halt was in relation to the capital raising and ‘other initiatives’. What those other initiatives might entail is a mystery, given that Ten has little left to sell and has already cut costs to the point where it could be argued it has undermined its ability to compete with its network rivals.”

In other company news, The Australian’s John Durie explains that the halo of National Australia Bank chairman Michael Chaney, a widely respected former Wesfarmers chief executive, may be slipping a little.

There’s a lot of economic analysis in the business pages this morning; none of it’s good news.

Fairfax economics correspondent Peter Martin says his takeaway from the annual forecasting conference of Australian Business Economists is you can forget about the surplus next year. The economy is slowing and that will be enough to deliver Canberra a deficit.

The Australian’s economics editor, David Uren, argues that we simply have to face the reality that taxes are going up. The Australian Financial Review’s economics editor, Alan Mitchell, says the Gillard government is facing the genuine dilemma of whether to tighten fiscal policy when the economy is showing signs of slowdown.

Fairfax’s Malcolm Maiden argues that the September economic growth numbers show the Reserve Bank has more work to do on the economy.

The Australian Financial Review’s Chanticleer columnist, Tony Boyd, says the housing market might be poised for some strong growth, whether the banks pass on the full rate cut or not.

The Australian’s Asia Pacific editor, Rowan Callick, offers his thoughts on what he believes to be a genuine push for reform in Papua New Guinea. This is good news for Australia, as Callick points out, because it’s a resource-rich nation that’s actually our closest neighbour.

And finally, The Australian’s Bernard Salt makes what appears at first glance to be an obvious observation – the younger the average marriage age, the more conservative a society is. It’s actually a very telling and astute observation.