Singapore Airlines gets $13bn lifeline as airlines beg for help

Airlines globally are seeking grants and loans from policymakers as travel demand plunges due to the virus outbreak.

    Shares in Singapore Airlines have plunged to their lowest in 22 years as investors feared the virus will have a deep effect on the company [File: Arnd Wiegmann/Reuters]
    Shares in Singapore Airlines have plunged to their lowest in 22 years as investors feared the virus will have a deep effect on the company [File: Arnd Wiegmann/Reuters]

    Singapore's state investor Temasek Holdings and others will inject as much as 19 billion Singapore dollars ($13.27bn) into Singapore Airlines (SIA) in the world's single-biggest rescue of an airline slammed by the coronavirus pandemic.

    The enormous financing plan, which drove SIA shares down as much as 10.5 percent on Friday, underscores the depth of financial trouble for the global airline industry, with nearly one-third of the world's aircraft already grounded because of the pandemic, according to data provider Cirium.

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    Many governments worldwide have already stepped in to help airlines amid the virus-induced travel slump, with the United States offering $58bn in aid. Many carriers have grounded fleets and ordered thousands of workers on unpaid leave to keep afloat.

    The 5.3 billion Singapore dollars ($3.72bn) in equity and up to 9.7 billion Singapore dollars ($6.8bn) in convertible notes - bonds that can be converted into equity stakes in the company - of the Singapore Airlines fundraising are being underwritten by Temasek, which owns about 55 percent of the group.

    The carrier has also obtained a 4 billion SIngapore dollar ($2.8bn) bridge loan facility with the country's biggest lender, DBS Group Holdings Ltd, to support near-term liquidity requirements.

    "This is an exceptional time for the SIA Group," SIA Chairman Peter Seah said in a statement late on Thursday.

    SIA's shares went into a rare trading halt earlier Thursday after plunging to their lowest in 22 years this week as investors feared the virus will have a deep impact on the company.

    "Under the current dire circumstances, the rights issue is the best tactical move for SIA. It underscores the carrier's strategic importance to Singapore and the island state's position as both a financial centre and aviation hub," Shukor Yusof, head of aviation consultancy Endau Analytics, said in a blog post.

    SIA has said it would cut capacity by 96 percent, ground almost its entire fleet and impose cost cuts affecting about 10,000 staff amid what it called the "greatest challenge" it had ever faced.

    The rights issue will be offered at 3 Singapore dollars ($2.10) per share, a 53.8 percent discount to SIA's last traded price of 6.5 Singapore dollars ($4.56).

    "While the raising looks earnings and valuation decretive, SIA now looks well positioned to ride out the storm with balance sheet concerns largely de-risked," Bank of America analysts told clients.

    Temasek International Chief Executive Dilhan Pillay Sandrasegara said the deal would not only tide SIA through its short-term liquidity challenge but would position it for growth beyond the pandemic.

    SIA said it would use the funding from the rights issues to beef up its capital and operational expenditure needs.

    On Thursday, the Singapore government announced more than $30bn in new measures to help businesses and households brace against the pandemic.

    More aid, please

    Airlines around the world are seeking government aid to stay afloat after the coronavirus pandemic wiped out travel demand.

    Airport traffic at 12 key hubs in Asia-Pacific region plunged by 80 percent on average in the second week of March compared with the same period last year, Airports Council International Asia-Pacific said on Friday as it called for government relief measures for airport operators.

    United States airlines are preparing to tap the government for up to $25bn in grants to cover payroll, even after the government warned it may take stakes in exchange for bailout funds, people familiar with the matter said.

    American Airlines Group Inc, a much larger carrier, on Thursday evening disclosed it would be eligible for $12bn of US government aid as part of a $58bn loan and grant package for the airline industry.

    Australia's Qantas Airways this week secured 1.05 billion Australian dollars ($636.1m) against its aircraft fleet.

    Others, including Air New Zealand Ltd and Virgin Australia Holdings Ltd, have warned they expect to be smaller carriers in the future.

    South Korean low-cost carrier Eastar Jet has begun returning some of its Boeing 737 planes to lessors, while Southwest Airlines Co said it would consider actions to reduce the company's size if passenger traffic remains significantly lower six months from now.

    SOURCE: Reuters news agency