Monday, March 14, 2011

Kingfisher asks suppliers to wait till GDR for dues

Kingfisher Airlines Ltd has asked suppliers and others to whom it owes money, to be patient because the carrier has been unable to raise money even as its stock price has fallen since December.

Kingfisher has told airport operators and oil companies, among others, that the airline will pay them off after it sells global depository receipts (GDRs) to raise $300 million.

The company’s chairman Vijay Mallya, in a letter to at least one of the suppliers, written late last month and reviewed by Mint, however, did not specify a time frame for the GDR issue.

Kingfisher had originally planned to launch the GDR after December. But with its shares falling 43% to Rs.41 each on Wednesday from nearly Rs.72 three months ago, it is yet to do so. The Bombay Stock Exchange’s benchmark index, the Sensex, has slipped 7.49% in the same period. Mallya wrote in his letter that the GDR cannot be issued at the current price value.

An email sent to a Kingfisher spokesman on Tuesday didn’t elicit a response.

The airline, India’s second largest by passengers carried, is yet to make profits since it was established in 2005.

Reserve Bank of India, India’s banking regulator, allowed it to undergo a debt recast last year, which will cut its debt to Rs.6,007.30 crore from Rs.7,651.12 crore, the airline said on its website.

A US-based analyst said raising equity is difficult for airlines when fuel prices are high, which puts pressure on profitability and causes a fall in their valuations.

“That being said, the tanking of Kingfisher’s stock price may have a greater impact on the company than the general economic conditions,” said Ernest S. Arvai, president, The Arvai Group Inc., an aviation consulting firm. “The market indication is that it has apparently lost confidence in the airline—sending a signal that it will be difficult for a new float to generate the capital management seeks without excessive dilution or a very low price. Reward and return are linked to relative risk, and right now, Kingfisher appears to be a highly risky bet.”

Kingfisher has appointed investment banks CLSA Singapore Pte Ltd, Citigroup Global Markets Ltd and Morgan Stanley and Co. International plc to manage the GDR issue, and legal firm Linklaters Llp for preparing the prospectus, Mint reported on 22 February.

The GDRs are expected to be sold to institutional investors in the US, the UK and elsewhere, according to an internal note circulated by Kingfisher in December and reviewed by Mint.

“Application will be made to list the GDRs on the official list of the Luxembourg Stock Exchange and to have the GDRs admitted to trading on the Euro MTF Market of the Luxembourg Stock Exchange,” the note said.

Aviation turbine fuel prices have risen 21% since December, from Rs.4,5240/kl to Rs.5,4933.36 now.

Arvai pointed out that airlines such as AirAsia Bhd’s Thai unit Thai Air Asia, which are looking to raise cash, may also find it difficult to raise funds as fuel prices rise on West Asia crisis.

“Can the more robust airlines succeed with offerings? Even these carriers may be impacted in fund-raising, but given their better operating economics, the impacts will be smaller, and might or might not force cancellation of an offering,” he said.

On Wednesday, aviation minister Vayalar Ravi told Parliament that airlines operating in the country owe Rs.1,122 crore to Airports Authority of India. Kingfisher alone owes Rs.257.62 crore to the AAI, the highest for a private airline.

Neha Jain

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