Mumbai : The Tata group said there have been preliminary discussions on the acquisition of struggling Jet Airways but it has not made any formal proposal for buying out the 51 per cent stake held by the Naresh Goyal family in the airline which has accumulated losses of over Rs 12,000 crore till the September 2018 quarter.
While the board of Tata Sons, the holding company of the group, discussed the acquisition of the airline, sources said both the parties are going slow as the broad contours of the deal, especially on the continuance of Goyal on Jet board after the takeover and other issues, have not been thrashed out.
Indicating that they are moving cautiously, Tata Sons issued a statement after the board meet, saying, “Over the last few days there has been growing speculation in the print and electronic media about Tata’s interest in Jet Airways. We would like to clarify that any such discussions have been preliminary. No proposal has been made.”
Jet Airways said in a stock exchange filing, “Reports (on merger of Vistara with Jet) is purely speculative in nature and that there are no discussions or decisions by the Board, which would require a disclosure.”
Sources said Tata Sons Chairman N Chandrasekaran had a preliminary discussion and an understanding over the broad contours of the deal with Jet Airways promoter Naresh Goyal for a possible share swap agreement between the Tata and its foreign joint venture partner Singapore International Airlines, Vistara, and also exit of Abu Dhabi based carrier Etihad that holds 24 per cent in Jet Airways.
Sources aware of the talks said that Tatas would definitely want a non-compete clause that bars Goyal and family from entering aviation business for a substantial period of time. However, sources say Goyal might have reservations over exiting the airline that he has created over 25 years and made it as a formidable brand in full service space and agree to a non-compete clause and complete exit.
The Tatas are looking at dilution of Goyal’s shareholding which is currently 51 per cent. A possible preferential allotment of shares might be looked at triggering an open offer as cash strapped Jet needs equity infusion on an immediate basis. “Liquidity continues to be worrisome, and Jet Airways earnings are most levered to oil prices and rupee depreciation. A potential entry of a strategic buyer would address the current liquidity crunch. Jet’s liquidity concerns are unlikely to dissuade a well-capitalised group like Tata, which has a track record of mega acquisitions. A prospective deal may involve a notable control premium,” said a report by Edelweiss equity research.
However, Jet Airways acquisition will not come cheap for the Tatas as the airline has accumulated losses of Rs 10,772 crore till FY18 with another reported loss of Rs 2,620.46 crore till the first half of FY18/19. Its other liabilities stack up to a staggering Rs 11,000 crore. It has immediate vendor payments that are stretched and lease rentals that are due. The airline has 16,000 employees .
Aviation analysts say it is the immediate scale that an acquisition of Jet Airways by Tatas will give to a fledgling Vistara that the Tatas are eyeing along with slots, that are at a premium for expanding Indian carriers as most of the metro airports are slot constrained restricting expansion of the airlines. “It is a billion dollar deal for the Tatas,” said an investment banker who has background in cutting out aviation deals in the Indian aviation market. Tatas have already accumulated losses of Rs 2,100 crore on account of both its airlines — Vistara and budget carrier AirAsia. It might not have the appetite to take over huge losses of Jet.
“It is all in the structuring of the deal. There are a lot of complications and also regulatory compliance issues in a deal such as Tata-Jet Airways. It will take time for the final proposal to be put on table,” said a person familiar with the ongoing discussions.
Jet’s share closed at Rs 346.85, up 8 per cent from its previous close of Thursday. The stock continued its four day rally, soaring 43.3 per cent over the past four days on the deal buzz with Tatas.