American Airlines ups ante in JAL bidding war
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Last Updated: Tuesday, January 12, 2010, 18:37
  
Tokyo: American Airlines on Tuesday raised the stakes in a bidding war with rival Delta for a slice of Japan Airlines, but the ailing company's shares still crashed on fears that bankruptcy is imminent.

Japan's government said it would do everything possible to ensure that Asia's biggest carrier keeps flying during its restructuring, which is expected to include drastic route reductions and thousands of job cuts.

American Airlines, its Oneworld alliance partners and private equity company TPG lifted their proposed investment in JAL to 1.4 billion dollars, from a previous offer of 1.1 billion dollars.

The US carrier is competing with Delta Air Lines, which has offered JAL a one-billion-dollar financial package, as the two airlines seek to increase their share of the lucrative Asian market.

American's vice president Thomas Horton said the offer "brings stability and certainty to Japan Airlines at a time when it is most needed, as it faces turbulent times over the coming weeks and months".

American said that by sticking with Oneworld, JAL stood to gain two billion dollars over the next three years from its links with alliance members, which also include British Airways, Qantas and Cathay Pacific.

"We believe we have a far superior proposal than the competing proposal," said Horton. "We've had a long-standing relationship with Japan Airlines."

American, which is eager to stop JAL defecting to Delta's SkyTeam alliance, did not say what size of equity stake it would expect in return for the proposed investment.

Investors dumped JAL shares on reports that the debt-ridden airline is likely to be de-listed from the Tokyo Stock Exchange and is preparing for a court-backed bankruptcy filing, possibly next week.

The government has pledged to avoid a total collapse of the former state-owned carrier, but has refused to rule out bankruptcy proceedings, which could aid JAL's restructuring but would likely leave investors out of pocket.

"It is important that we do our utmost to rehabilitate JAL, while continuing its flights," transport minister Seiji Maehara told a news conference.

JAL's share price plunged by the daily limit of 30 yen, or almost 45 percent, to hit a record low of 37 yen Tuesday amid a glut of sell orders. The shares have tumbled 72 percent over the past three months.

JAL, which lost about 1.5 billion dollars in the six months to September, is seeking public aid in the face of mounting debts.

According to Japanese media, JAL is set to receive an injection of government funds worth several hundred billion yen (several billion dollars) under a restructuring package that would see it file for bankruptcy.

At the same time JAL's creditor banks are expected to be asked to forgive loans worth several hundred billion yen.

JAL is "too big to fail" but the Japanese government may irk voters if it throws cash at the ailing carrier, said Peter Harbison, executive chairman of the Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation, a Sydney-based consulting firm.

The airline needs to take some tough restructuring decisions that "have been skirted for too long", he said.

The airline is reportedly set to slash more than 15,000 jobs over three years to stem massive losses.

JAL is hobbled by heavy costs stretching back to its days as a state-owned flag carrier, as well as a route network that includes flights to small domestic airports that are often unprofitable to service.

But in a major boost to its recovery efforts, more than two-thirds of JAL employees and retirees have agreed to cuts to their pension allowances.

JAL is not the only Asian airline that is suffering, Harbison noted.

"There aren't that many airlines in the region that are all that healthy right now. Governments are digging fairly deep to keep these sometimes geriatric flag carriers in the air," he said.

PTI


First Published: Tuesday, January 12, 2010, 18:37


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