In a surprise move, Air New Zealand, the biggest shareholder in Virgin Australia, has announced the full or partial sale of its 26 percent stake in that airline. The stake is worth $342.5 million, based on the latest closing share price of Tuesday.
Air NZ said it is exiting the shareholding in Virgin in order to augment its focus on its own growth opportunities. Air NZ chairman Tony Carter stated that the carrier is no longer keen on retaining a large minority equity position in Virgin.
Explaining the position further, Air NZ chief executive Christopher Luxon said his company had been supporting Virgin’s transformation from a budget carrier to a diversified airline group over the years.
He said Air NZ is reviewing the investment with alternate options on use of capital as Virgin is looking for its next level of growth, reports Sky News.
“But as Virgin embarks on the next phase of optimising its balance sheet and capital structure, We look forward to continuing our partnership on the Tasman alliance, providing customers of both airlines with the most comprehensive trans-Tasman network,” Luxon said in a statement. Luxon will soon resign from Virgin’s board.
Virgin responded by saying that it will continue its transformation process and the higher focus on improving profitability will sustain.
Virgin Australia posted a net profit of $45.7 million in the half-yearly results, marking a big turnaround in its financials, from the $53.1 million net loss it suffered a year ago.
The Brisbane-based airline was recently extended a loan of $425 million by Air New Zealand and other shareholders.
According to Straits Times, the 23 percent slide in Virgin Australia shares in 2015 could be the major reason for Air NZ’s rethink about its shareholding in Virgin.
“Eventually, there’s a point when investors start to question if you’re throwing too much money at an airline,” noted Oliver Lamb of Ailevon Pacific Aviation Consulting.
The report, without naming the buyer, also said that Air New Zealand’s stake might be bought over by a Chinese airline.