Qantas shares soar on new plan

In its first briefing for analysts since the Airline Partners Australia (APA) $11.


1 billion takeover bid collapsed, the airline reiterated it was reviewing its capital management strategies.

It expanded on the options, indicating shareholders could benefit from a spin-off of assets, a share buyback or an increase to dividend payouts.

Key to any demerger would be an expanded freight business that could be spun into a separate company, according to analysts who attended the briefing.

Those attending the behind-closed-doors event heard Qantas was considering extensive capital expenditure to expand its air and land freight operations locally and within Asian markets.

Shaw Stockbroking aviation analyst Brent Mitchell said any demerger was more likely to involve the freight operations than a spin-off and separate listing of Qantas's successful low cost airline Jetstar.

"Freight could be the one they spin off in a demerger," he said.

"In terms of freight options going forward, you're already seeing joint ventures with Australia Post and the options will only increase, especially if they move beyond air freight."

While Qantas didn't announce any specific detail about its capital management plans, it did commit to completing its review within six months.

There has been widespread talk in financial markets in recent weeks about a possible capital return to shareholders, given the health of the Qantas balance sheet.

Merrill Lynch analysts said last week Qantas was capable of returning $2.2 billion to shareholders without stressing interest cover ratios.

Mr Mitchell said a return of that magnitude was possible, but unlikely.

"They could return $2 billion, it's a question of whether they will or not and I suspect it wouldn't be to that level, it's more likely to be about $1 billion," he said.

It was unlikely Qantas would sell its catering business or Frequent Flyer Program, Mr Mitchell said, although the points system for the program could be restructured through another company to give it greater financial flexibility.

During its presentation Qantas reiterated plans to expand Jetstar further into Asia and aggressively target holiday leisure routes.

Both Qantas and Jetstar would also reconsider routes that had had abandoned or neglected, particularly to South America and Europe.

Qantas maintained current profit forecasts and said there was no need for an earnings upgrade.

The market welcomed the capital management, sending Qantas shares up to a new record intraday high of $5.54, well above the APA offer price of $5.45 a share.

The stock then closed at a new record of $5.46, up four cents, as turnover spiked to about 53 million shares making Qantas the second most traded stock by volume on the exchange.

The resilient share price stands in contrast with predictions made by both outgoing Qantas chairman Margaret Jackson and the APA consortium that share price would collapse with the bid's failure.

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