This Debt-Ridden Airline Just Sold a Majority Stake for a Penny

Feb 19, 2019

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Major Indian carrier Jet Airways, on the brink of financial collapse, needs 85 billion rupees ($1.2 billion USD) to claw its way out of debt.

Fortunately for the airline, a bailout seems to be on the horizon — involving the sum of one rupee, or a little more than a US cent.

How? The deal is actually a debt restructuring backed by the State Bank of India in which the bank would acquire a 50.1 percent stake in the airline for the nominal sum of one rupee, by being issued 114 million new shares, Bloomberg says. Jet Airways currently has a negative net worth, and with the debt restructuring it will be able to obtain fresh equity and time to liquidate some unnecessary assets — mostly by dumping aircraft it can’t afford.

“The structure, however, is expected to be temporary, allowing the airline to raise equity from investors, which in turn would alter the shareholding pattern,” Bloomberg explains. “While the bank deal is nominally a conversion of debt into shares, debt levels will come down only by 1 rupee once the exercise is completed.”

The plan still has to be approved by the airline’s lenders, a banking group, Jet Airways’ founder Naresh Goyal and the board of Etihad Airways, the (also financially unstable) Abu Dhabi-based airline that owns a 24 percent stake in Jet Airways.

It’s still unclear who the airline’s new investors would be. Bloomberg reports that Goyal has said he would invest up to 7 billion rupees if he keeps his 25 percent stake, Etihad could invest 14 billion more rupees to keep its 24 percent holding and India’s National Investment and Infrastructure Fund could pump in up to 13 billion rupees. But those possibilities would still leave the carrier about 50 billion rupees in debt.

For India’s government, saving Jet Airways may actually make sense in the short term. As the nation’s largest full-service carrier, the airline employs at least 16,000 people, and with an impending election, the loss of all those jobs might look bad for incumbent prime minister Narendra Modi. Jet Airways used to serve New York JFK, Newark and San Francisco in the US, but has shrunk to only one destination in North America, Toronto.

Featured photo by Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images.

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