Qantas to remain locked out of Air New Zealand battle

Qantas will likely remain sidelined in the battle for a slice of Air New Zeland even if the latter''s ownership rules are relaxed
There appears to be some speculation Qantas will be able to buy a strategic stake in Air New Zealand (ANZ) if the latter's share ownership restrictions are relaxed. Those coming up with such talk appear to be forgetting ANZ will very soon fully own Ansett Australia (AA), Australia's second carrier, and Qantas' control of its smaller rival would inevitably prove unacceptable to competition authorities.á

"ANZ's ownership of AA does not preclude Qantas from buying ANZ, but it would complicate matters," says Chin Lim, analyst at Morgan Stanley Dean Witter.á

Furthermore, it's hard to see how Qantas could get its hands on a sizeable stake in ANZ. Brierley Investments currently owns 46.7% of ANZ, comprising 30.0% in A shares and 16.7% in B shares. Singapore Airlines (SIA) has already acquired an 8.3% interest in B shares in the market and is widely thought to have a tacit agreement with Brierley to buy Brierley's B share holding. This would take SIA's stake to 25.0% - the ceiling approved by the New Zealand government. SIA will almost certainly require, and obtain, assurances from Brierley barring Brierley from divesting any of its remaining holding to Qantas.

Right now, this isn't a problem. Brierley would only have A shares left if it sold its B share holding to SIA and these A shares can only be held by New Zealand nationals. Press reports suggest, however, that ANZ is lobbying the New Zealand government to allow Australian nationals to also own A shares.áá

Regardless of any relaxation of share ownership rules or regulatory hurdles, it is highly unlikely the Star Alliance trio of ANZ, SIA and AA would want Qantas to join them.

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