Singapore Airlines Increases Stake in Virgin Australia

By Lucy Battersby | Source: Sydney Morning Herald

single largest shareholder.

Singapore Airlines paid about $122 million, or $0.48 per share, for 255 million shares in an off-market agreement on 23 April, according to an announcement to the securities exchange. Virgin Australia shares last traded at $0.45 per share.

Singapore Airlines purchased the shares from directly from Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, based in Europe.

A spokeswoman for Virgin Australia said: “We don’t comment on changes to our share register other than to say that we believe that this is a further demonstration of confidence in our strategy”.

Singapore Airlines is majority owned by the Singapore government through its investment fund Temasek Holdings. It previously held a 10 per cent stake in Virgin. The purchase still requires Foreign Investment Review Board approval becuase it would be a significant stake, but remains below threshold of 20 per cent at which a full takeover bid must be launched.

A spokesman for the company said it had no plans at this point to further increase its holding.

“Our partnership with Virgin Australia has been going from strength to strength, offering a wide range of consumer benefits,” Singapore Airlines chief executive, Goh Choon Phong, said in a statement.

“Increasing our stake in Virgin Australia is another example of Singapore Airlines’ deep commitment to the important Australian market. It also demonstrates our support for the ongoing transformation of Virgin Australia, which has created a more competitive aviation market in Australia.”

Singapore Airlines recently sold a 49 per cent stake in Virgin Atlantic to Delta Airlines. A spokeswoman said the synergies it hoped for had not materialised.

Macquarie Equities analysts said “the [Virgin Australia] transaction moves more of the voting power into the hands of the strategic operating partners”.

“At this point there is no talk of a takeover from any of the parties, however, the interest from the partners does confirm the strength of Virgin Australia’s virtual international network going forward, as it attempts to compete effectively with Qantas’s new reach given the Emirates deal,” they added.

The move comes a day after Virgin received competition regulator approval to buy a controlling stake in Tiger Australia from Singapore Airlines’ budget associate, Tiger Airways Holdings Ltd.

The Tiger deal, which must also be approved by the FIRB, marks a return an effective duopoly of Qantas and Virgin by removing Tiger as an independent third player.

Singapore Airlines could soon own about 25 per cent of Tiger Airways Australia, through a 33 per cent stake in Tiger Holdings and the higher stake in Virgin Australia.

Virgin Australia’s other shareholders include Air New Zealand, which has about 19 per cent of shares. And Etihad airlines has a 8 per cent stake. If the Singapore Airlines deal wins approval it would leave Virgin Group with about 13 per cent of shares.

Mr Branson recently sold his Virgin Money business in Australia to the Bank of Queensland for $40 million.

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