Tuesday 20 February 2018

Alitalia raises less than two-thirds of emergency cash following Ryanair rebuff

An Alitalia plane prepares to take off from Linate Airport, Milan, Italy
An Alitalia plane prepares to take off from Linate Airport, Milan, Italy

Agnieszka Flak

Loss-making Alitalia has yet to raise all of the €300m it was seeking in an emergency cash call, piling more pressure on the Italian airline to find a strategic investor to keep it flying.

Alitalia said it had received €173m by a deadline for existing shareholders to subscribe to its cash call via pledges and bank guarantees and expected to raise the rest from the state-owned postal service and other investors.

Top shareholder Air France-KLM, with a 25pc stake, refused to take up its share of the cash call, saying Alitalia's new business plan pledging severe cost cuts was not enough to save the stricken Italian carrier without its creditors writing off some of its huge debts.

The Franco-Dutch group has so far been seen as the most suitable carrier to come to Alitalia's rescue.

Earlier this week, Alitalia rebuffed an offer from Ryanair to feed passengers into its long-haul routes and help boost the Italian carrier's profitability.

The emergency cash, part of a bigger rescue package engineered by the government to keep Alitalia's aircraft in the air, is seen as a stopgap measure giving the airline a few more months to find a partner to help revamp the group.

But with €700,000 of daily losses and net debt of €800m Alitalia could soon have to ground its planes.

The failure to fully cover the capital increase illustrates that some of Alitalia's existing investors have doubts that the carrier, which has made a profit only sporadically in its 67-year history, can be turned around.

"Not even Alitalia's own shareholders believe that the company can be rescued," said Andrea Giuricin, a transport analyst at Milan's Bicocca University, who has written a book on the airline. "Even if they get to €300m, Alitalia remains very weak and this cash will only give it maximum six months."

Alitalia said on Thursday it had received the €173m by the Nov. 27 deadline in pledges from current shareholders and guarantee payments by Italy's top two banks Intesa Sanpaolo and UniCredit.

The airline expects to sell remaining unsubscribed shares in a second phase of the cash call that ends on Dec. 10.

Italy's postal service, which the government brought into the rescue plan last month, has said it would invest €75m and the airline hopes to convince other investors to stump up the remainder.

"Given the information received to date and taking into account subscription commitments already made, the company believes that the conditions exist for the capital increase to be fully covered," Alitalia said.

Air France-KLM said earlier this month Alitalia's cost-cutting plans were not enough to save the stricken carrier without its creditors writing off some of its debts.

Alitalia has some attractive assets: Europe's fourth-largest travel market, 24 million passengers a year and competitive airport slots that allow travellers to fly back and forth to Italian cities at convenient times of the day.

But the inclusion of the postal service and banks, which the government convinced to guarantee up to €100m, will leave Alitalia with shareholders who have little knowledge of how to operate an airline successfully, Giuricin said.

Analysts said Air France-KLM could still revive its interest in Alitalia via a takeover offer next year, but only if Alitalia manages to offload some debt.

Italian media have mentioned Germany's Lufthansa, Russia's Aeroflot or Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways as other possible investors in Alitalia, but all three have distanced themselves from the troubled carrier for now.

Apart from Air France-KLM, Alitalia is owned by a disparate group of 21 investors including Intesa and highway operator Atlantia.

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