It was the usually combative and abrasive Geoff Dixon who fronted the media after the Qantas produced a higher dividend and good interim profits in Sydney today.
He bagged the management of the Flight Attendants Association, said he didn’t want Chris Corrigan “blowing smoke up my ar*e” on the question of competition from Virgin Blue, warned that the airline might have to take more jobs offshore and had to get more cost affective and bashed government-owned or helped airlines for unfair competition(read Singapore and Emirates).
A generally Dixonian performance, so typical of many of his previous public outings. See today’s SMH report here. He did pay tribute to the good work done by staff in producing a sharp improvement in earnings and lower costs, which was a smart thing to say given some of his other observations and the annual salary package of some $6 million.
His comments, of course, didn’t bring an immediate voicing of concern from Federal Liberal backbenchers, Bruce Baird, Jackie Kelly and Bob Baldwin who were so vocal on their worries about job losses from Singapore Airlines being allowed to fly the Pacific routes in competition with Qantas.
By any measurement it was an impressive result for the airline and yet Dixon said it wasn’t good enough because Qantas is not meeting its cost of capital. A good question so far unanswered is: just what exactly is that cost of capital figure at the moment and how has it moved in the past five years, up or down? A good follow-up question would be: has Qantas made its cost of capital in any period in the past ten years of privatised life?
If the record has been spotty, does that reflect a cost of capital figure that is realistic, or does it also reflect the crazy nature of the airline business and that Qantas’ results have been one of the stand out results from the world’s airlines because it has been consistently in the black and grown earnings, despite SARS, terrorism and the like?
Pre-tax earnings rose 13% to more than $601 million and after tax, earnings were 28.4% higher at $458.4 million. That’s just for the half year and equates to $4 million in net profit a day.
All thanks to greater efficiencies and, of course, the fuel surcharges imposed last year as oil prices escalated towards $US50 a barrel. No movement there!
The higher interim dividend of 10c a share, up 2c, sounds impressive, but earnings per share rose 24% to 24.7c, so the payout, while higher, is actually still on the low side.
The airline’s interest cover improved, its debt to equity ratio fell, cash from operations rose slightly to over $1 billion while the company held net cash of more than $2 billion at the end of December, up more than $665 million compared to June 30.
Looking at the result you can’t help wondering why there’s such an abrasively defensive tone at Qantas, why the CEO chooses to attack and defend rather than go on the front foot in a positive way, such as welcoming and working to greater benefits for Qantas users and shareholders.
The shares fell 6c in an immediate reaction to the news to $3.58 as investors did the usual ‘sell on the report’.
The Jetstar move has clearly been successful, so far in blunting Virgin Blue, but Dixon’s comments that he wouldn’t “mind owning” the airline makes it clear that he thinks Chris Corrigan and Patrick are onto a good thing by trying to tighten their control over Virgin.
Qantas and Jetstar can only benefit if that happens as Corrigan will try to cut back the competitive spirit at Virgin and drive earnings and air fares higher. Qantas and Jetstar will be a big beneficiary if that happens.
With that in mind you can understand why he is blindly denying reality and trying to stop Singapore Airlines from entering the Pacific routes. After all, he and Qantas are not being complete straightly by introducing the issue on onward flying rights from Singapore for Qantas.
That’s a matter for Qantas and the Australian Government to negotiate. While Qantas does have beyond rights to Europe and Asia from Singapore (and has been allowed to start Jetstar Asia), Singapore has no onward rights from Australia and Qantas has worked hard over the years to keep it out of the domestic market.
At its heart Qantas is like those companies that hid behind the tariff wall in footwear, clothing and textiles and motor vehicles in the 60s, 70s and 80s. Remember Pacific Dunlop, Repco, Ford and General Motors Holden?
They were all astute players of tariffs and quotas, in the name of preserving jobs, but really to limit competition and maintain the rich comfortable lives of their boards, executives and shareholders. Qantas is little different.