Singapore Airlines Ups Virgin Australia Stake Amidst Ownership Issues

Virgin Australia

In a dramatic move, Singapore Airlines announced raising the stake in Virgin Australia Holdings Ltd. at a time its future ownership is under speculation.

The Singapore Airlines on Wednesday disclosed that it would increase its shareholding to 23.11 per cent from 22.91 per cent, according to a statement.  The airline said it paid $3.18 million for a series of equity swaps or 46.7 Australian cents on each Virgin Australia share.

Although the latest purchase has not changed SIA’s stake, it will be paying 32 percent more than Virgin Australia’s last closing price for the additional shares, reports Bloomberg.

Many questions had surfaced on Virgin Australia’s ownership structure after the largest shareholder, Air New Zealand Ltd., announced its exit.

On March 30, Air New Zealand said it would sell some or all of its 25.89 percent stake in Virgin. Etihad Airways with 24 percent stake is the second biggest shareholder, added the Bloomberg report.

Recently. Virgin Australia had a loan infusion if $425 million from its major shareholders.

“If one wanted to draw a ‘loose’ conclusion from last night’s announcement, it’s that Singapore Air does not seem to have objections to injecting further cash into Virgin,” Citigroup’s credit trading desk in Sydney said.

The SIA has earned the approval of Australia’s Foreign Investment Review Board to increase its stake. But the airline declined to comment.

According to a report in The Sydney Morning Herald, many analysts view the action of Singapore Airlines as a prelude to the full takeover of Virgin.

For Air NZ, the options to sell its stake are many–it can sell a bulk stake to Virgin’s trans-Pacific partner, Delta Air Lines or turn to a Chinese carrier. However, Singapore Airlines will not be amused to see the entry of a Chinese carrier as a competitor for Virgin’s Asian business.

“Singapore would be a natural fit in terms of the network and complimentary routes,” University of Sydney associate professor in aviation management Rico Merkert said.

He said Singapore Airlines would try to gain control over Virgin and he recalled its interest in entering Australia market and noted that it had serious talks with Qantas at one stage.

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