Aer Lingus wants many smaller shareholders, not just few big ones – Mueller
THE head of Aer Lingus has said that having a mix of smaller shareholders, rather than potential large-scale stake building by a few investors is best for the airline.
Aer Lingus would be best served by having a large number of shareholders and not necessarily by Gulf carrier Etihad hiking its stake in the Irish airline above its current near 3pc stake, Christoph Mueller said.
"Liquidity is key for us and should be for all shareholders because low trading and a low free float is an impediment to our share price potential," Mr Mueller told the Irish Independent, adding that the Aer Lingus management believes that the airline should have "many shareholders" rather than a few large ones.
The chief executive was speaking as Aer Lingus reported an operating profit of €61.1m for 2013, an 11.6pc fall on 2012.
But the figure was in line with the forecast profit Aer Lingus management gave back in September when they issued a profit warning. Aer Lingus had originally expected to make a profit of €69.1m. Revenue edged 2.3pc higher to €1.42bn last year.
While its transatlantic services performed strongly, short-haul routes suffered, hit by a heatwave in Ireland and northern Europe last summer that dented demand, and also by a fare battle that raged between carriers, especially in the last half of 2013.
The Aer Lingus boss said that he doesn't expect to see Ryanair's almost 30pc stake in its smaller rival reduce until next year. The UK's Competition Commission ruled last year that Ryanair must reduce its stake in Aer Lingus to 5pc. Ryanair is appealing that decision.
The Government also owns 25.1pc of Aer Lingus and it's likely that it will re-examine selling that stake once Ryanair is forced to reduce its holding.
Etihad CEO James Hogan has previously said that he would be interested in raising the carrier's stake in Aer Lingus.
"We have a preference to have no principal shareholders," said Mr Mueller. "But who exactly the shareholders will be is out of our influence. We would not promote any preference from our side."
"We take a lot of pride in the fact that we are the only profitable carrier in that group," said Mr Mueller regarding the other airlines in which Etihad has stakes. He said the Abu Dhabi-based carrier's 3pc stake in Aer Lingus is "not significant".
Mr Mueller announced a raft of initiatives yesterday, including a plan to save €30m over the next two years under a new cost-saving programme called CORE (Cost Optimisation and Revenue Excellence). Most of the savings will be made from payroll.
It will focus on improving business processes, enhancing retail merchandising revenue and delivering a new passenger reservation system. It could also result in "significant redundancy costs" for the airline, according to Mr Mueller.
Aer Lingus will also roll out a new website this year and improve its mobile app.