Investment momentum has turned strongly against Australian online travel agent Webjet, which suffered the embarrassment of a stock exchange query on its sharp stock price fall over the past three weeks – from $2.78 on May 1 to $2.27 yesterday.
Webjet says there’s nothing wrong, that it’s business as usual. Maybe, but there’s not a lot of love around for Webjet and its CEO John Guscic, who has been openly hostile to financial analysts.
Following Webjet’s half-year results briefings, talk swept the financial community of Mr Guscic berating and belittling analysts that cover his company in front of their investors.
He was apparently frustrated with what he thought was their lack of knowledge – and faith in – his company.
But who is to blame?
Webjet has a reputation for revealing very little about its internal machinations or breaking out key components of the business, which has become much more complicated since the acquisition of Zuji last year.
Compounding matters was over-ambitious forecasting of the immediate financial benefit Zuji would bring to the Webjet bottom line.
Then when these forecasts fell well short, Zuji’s performance was not clearly addressed.
Meanwhile, it’s an intensely competitive market where foreign agents are making major inroads and marketing costs are going through the roof.
Relations with the financial community have not been the same since.
Webjet, which makes up to 80% of its money through booking fees and commissions generated by airfare sales, is no longer being given the benefit of the doubt.
“There is apparently ill-informed an inaccurate financial market commentary suggesting that Webjet’s Australian market share is under material threat from unnamed overseas online travel agents,” Webjet said in a statement to the Australian Stock Exchange.
“There is no factual foundation that we are aware of that can support this conclusion.
“The latest Hitwise data shows that we have increased our lead in visitation in the online travel agency from 12.94% in March to 13.21% in April.
“Although there is some evidence in the published Australian Airline traffic data that the Australian travel market is subdued and without year on year domestic leisure growth, Webjet reconfirms its market guidance of $21.5 million.”
But those words have done nothing to alter perceptions and confidence in Webjet remains low.
All eyes are now on its annual results in a couple of months.
And even if Webjet does exceed expectations, which is entirely feasible, will good numbers alone be enough to turn the tide or is momentum running too strongly in the other direction?
Once entrenched, momentum is hard to shift.