Qld rich lister’s fortune plunges by $300m in three weeks

FLIGHT Centre shares have halved in value in three weeks as the coronavirus sharemarket selling frenzy intensifies.

The rapid plunge has wiped $300 million off the value of CEO Graham Turner's 15 per cent stake in the Brisbane-based travel agency firm.

The benchmark ASX 200 index tumbled 7.4 per cent yesterday to close at 5304.6 points, erasing another $127 billion from the value of the nation's biggest listed companies.

Flight Centre managing director Graham Turner. Picture: Liam Kidston
Flight Centre managing director Graham Turner. Picture: Liam Kidston

Tourism-related businesses were the worst hit stocks after the US introduced a European travel ban.

Yesterday's ASX 200 plunge was the worst since the Global Financial Crisis in 2008. The market has tumbled 25.9 per cent since its peak on February 20, wiping $556 billion off its value. It is at its lowest point since November 2016 and has easily passed the 20 per cent slump that marks a bear market.

"There is definitely a sense of panic," Burman Invest chief investment officer Julia Lee said. "It's hard to imagine that the Australian sharemarket was at an all-time high just three weeks ago. The speed to the sell-off has been surprising." Flight Centre shares dropped 18.2 per cent to $19.61 yesterday. Three weeks ago they were trading at $39.48 and had peaked at $70.53 in August 2018. Mr Turner's 15.2 million shares are now worth around $299 million, down from $602 million last month. Mr Turner said not all travel companies will get through the coronavirus outbreak. "The fit ones will survive, the others will not survive," he said.

Flight Centre had not started any redundancy program, he said. It was presently relying on general attrition and staff had been asked to cut back their working hours or take unpaid leave.

"My feeling is the worst will occur within the next month, but recovery will take some time," Mr Turner said. "This will go on for three to four months," he added.

Elsewhere, Qantas Airways shed 9.9 per cent to $3.64 yesterday, Virgin Australia shares lost 16.7 per cent to 6¢, Webjet tumbled 19.6 per cent to $5.56 and Corporate Travel fell 9.6 per cent to $8.60.

The big four banks have also been hammered with $124.7 billion wiped from their collective market value in three weeks. In that time the Commonwealth Bank's share price has nose-dived 28 per cent, Westpac has lost 31 per cent, ANZ is off 32 per cent while National Australia Bank has dropped 34 per cent.

with John Dagge and Lisa Allen

Headlines