There have been some very high executive payouts in recent years -- boardrooms seemed content to plunder shareholder coffers to pay multimillion-dollar stipends to the likes of Wal King, Richard Leupen, Allan Moss, Phil Green and Geoff Dixon. But those esteemed group of executives were at least employed by shareholder-owned companies; the same can’t be said for the head of Australia Post, Ahmed Fahour.

In its annual report (buried late on Friday to generate the least possible public attention), AusPost announced a steady 14% rise in revenue to $5.8 billion. However, if AusPost were a publicly listed company, shareholders wouldn’t be impressed by its performance. Sophisticated investors look largely to a company's return on equity to assess performance -- that is, how efficiently is the company using its invested capital. In the case of AusPost, it appears the answer is not very well -- the entity’s return equity (stripping out an abnormal superannuation gain) actually fell from 16.8% to only 10.6% in 2013. The main reason was a sharp increase in capital used, with capital expenditure rocketing to $386 million. In short, AusPost is generating more profits, but only by using greater capital. (At the same, time, the business’ operating cash flows worsened, from $551 million in 2012 to $450 million.)