Yes, it was a glittering group in Sydney last night who paid tribute to Frank Lowy, the Westfield shopping mall king. Rupert Murdoch was there on the eve of his admission he isn’t immune to the savagery of the global economic downturn, after News reported a near-$10 billion loss this morning.

Lowy himself has already been forced to accept reality and book a $3 billion writedown. That could double (making a gross $9 billion in all) when Westfield reports its 2008 results later this month. Sales are down in the US, UK and New Zealand, and weren’t all that healthy here until the December stimulus hit home.

The guest list included Kev Rudd, who was there to honour Frank. Kev’s a real fan. He used Westfield’s trading update earlier this week for the fourth quarter in Australia to point out how the spending stimulus in December pushed Australian retail sales up. That was a day before the official figures confirmed it.

But other names on the list raised an eyebrow or three. Convicted cartel king Dick Pratt (the $36 million man) and son Anthony were both there.

I wonder if Kev and Dick gazed at one another across the room, or perhaps Opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull happened to glance the way of the cardboard price fixing magnate?

Bill Wavish, the downsizing and staff-cutting privately-owned department store chief, was also there. Trevor Rowe, head of the powerful Queensland Investment Corporation and a big holder of Westfield shares, was also in the room. Rowe’s the chairman of Brisconnections, the cheapest share in Australia at 0.01 cents (it can’t fall any lower). The company has been an unfolding PR disaster since April, when shareholders have to cough up millions on what is now a worthless bit of paper.

Sol Trujillo was there, the man who is about to depart for the US, but won’t tell anyone. David Gonski was there, ASX chairman and a former board member of Westfield and one of the most powerful people in the Sydney business community. Nick Moore of Macquarie was there, hours after owning up to another profit drop, revenue slump and another $900 million in provisions and the trimming of staff by a further 1047 souls.

Brain McCarthy was a there from Fairfax, the incredible shrinking media company whose credit rating was placed on negative watch yesterday by S&P.

Turnbull’s heroic presence was almost required, seeing as how Frank’s one of his big backers and funders in Wentworth. But will Frank’s fandom last if if the Rudd $42 billion package is compromised and punters don’t get as much, or lose confidence because of the Turnbull’s stance and stop spending in Frank’s malls (where Westfield is still pushing up rents, despite the tough times)?

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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