Singapore Air Raises Virgin Stake Amid Ownership Speculation

  • Singaporean carrier increasing stake to 23.11% from 22.91%
  • Air NZ, Virgin Australia's largest shareholder, mulls exit

Singapore Airlines Ltd. raised its stake in Virgin Australia Holdings Ltd. a week after future ownership of the A$1.3 billion ($987 million) airline was put in doubt.

The Singapore carrier increased the shareholding to 23.11 percent from 22.91 percent, it said in a statement late Wednesday. The airline said it paid A$3.18 million to settle a series of equity swaps, or 46.7 Australian cents on average for each Virgin Australia share.

Speculation about Virgin Australia’s ownership mounted last week after the airline’s largest shareholder, Air New Zealand Ltd., said it’s considering an exit. While the latest purchase barely changes Singapore Air’s stake, it’s paying 32 percent more than Virgin Australia’s last closing price for the additional shares.

“If one wanted to draw a ‘loose’ conclusion from last night’s announcement, it’s that Singapore Air does not seem to have objections to injecting further cash into Virgin,” Citigroup Inc.’s credit trading desk in Sydney said in a note to clients.

Virgin gained 2.1 percent to 36.25 Australian cents at 1:33 p.m. in Sydney trading.

Singapore Air has approval from Australia’s Foreign Investment Review Board to increase its stake in Virgin Australia to 25.9 percent. The Singapore carrier declined to comment beyond Wednesday’s statement, it said in an e-mail.

Air New Zealand said March 30 it may sell some or all of its 25.89 percent stake in Brisbane-based Virgin.

Etihad Airways PJSC owns about 24 percent of Virgin Australia, making it the second-largest shareholder, while Virgin Group owns about 10 percent, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Virgin Australia borrowed A$425 million from its major shareholders last month, giving the airline time to review its balance sheet.

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