"Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned." Australia's sharemarket is waiting if that adage would be applicable in the case of Australia's richest woman, Gina Rinehart, who was denied anew on Wednesday a seat in the Fairfax Media board.
Prior to the release of the Fairfax decision, Ms Rinehart had threatened to sell her 19 per cent stake in the financially hemorrhaging media firm unless she be given three board seats, the power to hire and fire editors, and be appointed deputy chair.
The threat caused Fairfax shareholders to sell their stock which led to a 3.5 per cent decline in the company's stock value to 55 cents a share on Tuesday. Fairfax (ASX: FXJ) shares slightly rose 0.5 per cent to 55.5 cents on Wednesday as the markets waited for the company's decision.
Now, all eyes are on Ms Rinehart's next move, particularly if she would make good her threat to sell her shares and its impact on Fairfax share prices after Roger Corbett, the chairman of the losing media firm, said the board decided against giving the mining mogul a board seat.
The board snubbed Ms Rinehart the second time after it initially opted to pick another new director a few weeks ago and bypassed the billionaire, who at that time was declared also the world's richest woman. Using her wealth, Ms Rinehart upped her stakes in Fairfax to 19 from 13 per cent and openly sought a seat in a bid to have a greater say in running the company.
Although she eventually agreed to sign a deal that would respect the editorial independence of Fairfax, the board still closed its door to her, but it left a small window open.
"I regret that agreement has not been reached for Mrs Rinehart to join the Fairfax Media board of directors," Mr Corbett said in a statement after the company's board meeting on Wednesday afternoon.
"In coming to this view the board has gauged the opinion of other shareholders and noted some of their recent public comments on these matters, noting in particular they share the company's view on maintaining editorial independence and their desire that board members act in the interest of all shareholders," he explained.
He disclosed that Fairfax received thousands of emails and letters from shareholders and readers that supported its stand on editorial independence.
However, John Klepec, chief development officer of Hancock Prospecting which Ms Rinehart owns, pointed out that the principles of editorial independence were breached in the past. He cited as an example the order by Fairfax for journalists to support Earth Hour.
Mr Corbett said he hopes that Ms Rinehart could still join the Fairfax board in the future if both parties reach an agreement on terms acceptable to the media firm.
That leaves the ball in Ms Rinehart's court if she would be willing to wait further or if she would get back at the company that rejected her by selling her stake. Dumping her shares could just be the straw that could break the Fairfax board's back, a markets observer speculated.
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