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Telstra on Friday announced it would postpone releasing details of a long-anticipated strategic review until mid-November, but did not offer reasons for the delay.
Sol Trujullo, the company’s newly appointed chief executive, this week presented several plans to Telstra’s board aimed at stemming a forecast earnings slide because of intensifying competition and regulatory changes.
Mr Trujillo’s review was expected to be released next month. But in a statement on Friday morning, Telstra said: “The review is now expected to be completed and outcomes announced to the market in mid-November.”
Telstra, Australia’s largest telecommunications group, is 51.8 per cent owned by the government, which this month approved the sale of its remaining A$28bn stake in the company, dubbed T3.
But the political price for the sale has required the government to restrict prices Telstra can charge, and has forced it to maintain unprofitable rural services, and break up its wholesale and retail businesses.
Telstra surprised the market earlier this month when it warned earnings before interest and tax may fall up to 10 per cent in the year to June 2006. The profit warning sparked a rapid fall in Telstra’s share price, sending the stock plummeting. The stock closed down 3 cents to A$4.30 on Friday.
Some analysts believe Telstra’s share price could even fall below A$4 on Monday after the company pays annual dividends, and small investors, who form two-thirds of the company’s 1.6m investors, leave the stock.
“A lot of people are suggesting it may fall greater than the 20c because there are a lot of retail investors holding on for that dividend, and when it goes ex-dividend there’s probably not a lot of compelling reasons to be in the stock for a while,” ABN Amro broker Simon Ferguson told the AAP news agency.
Most brokers are less pessimistic. But some commentators have argued that this may have more to do with the coming opportunity among Australia’s top investment banks to be involved in selling T3.
According to Alan Kohler, publisher of The Eureka Report, an independent advisory newsletter, the banks “have much to gain by boosting [Telstra].”
“Not since the Mongol tribes were repelled by the Ming Dynasty in the 17th century has a Chinese wall come under so much pressure as will be placed upon the internal compliance arrangements of Australia’s investment banks over the next 12 months,” Mr Kohler said.
But Mr Kohler added that it will not be until Mr Trujillo reveals his strategic blueprint that the “Chinese walls” separating investment bank’s research and advisory arms will matter. “Will there be a flurry of heartfelt conversions by research analysts from sceptics to apostles?”