S Korean activist fund KCGI keen to buy controlling stake in Asiana Airlines

FILE PHOTO: An Asiana Airlines Airbus A350-900 is seen at the Airbus delivery center in Colomiers near Toulouse, France, March 20, 2019. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau

South Korea’s activist fund KCGI, the second-largest shareholder in the parent company of Korean Air Lines Co Ltd (003490.KS), is interested in buying a controlling stake in rival carrier Asiana Airlines Inc (020560.KS), KCGI Chief Executive Kang Sung-boo told Reuters.

He said the fund is in talks with several local and overseas entities to form a consortium to bid for the 31.05% stake in Asiana Airlines, which has been put up for sale by top shareholder Kumho Industrial (002990.KS). The stake is worth $282 billion as of Friday’s closing price

Kang’s comment comes as the local airline industry grapples with several challenges, including rising competition from budget carriers to a U.S.-China trade war hitting cargo demand and a Korea-Japan diplomatic row hurting travel. Korean Air Lines and Asiana Airlines swung to operating losses for the April to June quarter, from a year earlier.

Asiana Airlines is expected to receive initial bids on Sept.3, followed by binding bids in October, Kang said. Credit Suisse is managing the deal.

An Asiana spokesman declined to comment.

Kang said the country’s full-fledged carriers need to restructure and consolidate to reduce competition and heavy debts.

“I believe the entire airline industry in Korea is in crisis,” Kang said over the phone.

Shares of Asiana Airlines, South Korea’s second-largest carrier after Korean Air Lines, outperformed the broader market .KS11 and were up 2.2% in early trade.

Funding Questions

KCGI’s possible bid came amid concerns about lack of interest in the sales of the heavily indebted Asiana Airlines, analysts say.

“There are market doubts whether the fund has the firepower (war chest) to buy into Asiana Airlines,” said Bang Min-jin, an analyst at Eugene Investment & Securities said.

In April, Kumho Industrial it would sell its entire stake in the debt-ridden carrier to keep it afloat, after the conglomerate came under pressure from creditors including state-run Korea Development Bank.

Korean’s chip-to-refinery conglomerate SK Group and retail-focused Aekyung Group, which also has a stake in budget carrier Jeju Air (089590.KS), were named as potential suitors by local media, but the two firms did not publicly say whether they were interested in the bidding or not.

KCGI has increased its stake in Hanjin Kal, the parent of Korean Air Lines, fueling market expectations about a battle to control the family-owned group following the death of patriarch Cho Yang-ho in April.

But Delta Air Lines (DAL.N), which runs a joint venture of Korean Air Lines, bought a 5.13% stake in Hanjin Kal, giving a boost to the management of South Korea’s top carrier as it seeks to thwart KCGI’s challenge.

Reuters 

 

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Singapore Reporter/s

In Singapore, we are looking to double our reporting team by this year-end to comprehensively cover the fast-moving world of funded startups and VC, PE & M&A deals. We want reporters who can tell our readers what is really happening in these sectors and why it matters to markets, companies and consumers. The ability to write precisely and urgently is crucial for these roles. Ideal candidates must have to ability to work in a collaborative, dynamic, and fast-changing environment. We want our new hires to be digitally savvy and ready to experiment with new forms of storytelling. Most importantly, we are looking for hard-hitting reporters who work well in a team. Collaboration and collegiality are a must.

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).   

  • A reporter to track companies/startups that have raised private capital, and have the potential to become unicorns. SEA currently has over 40 companies with a valuation of over $100 million and under $1 billion.
  • A reporter who can get behind the scenes and reveal how funding rounds are put together, or why they’ve failed to materialise. She/he in this role will largely focus on long-format stories. 
  • A journalist to track special situations funds, distressed debt and private credit (from the PE angle) across Asia.