Saturday 21 April 2018

Ryanair now the kingmaker in battle for airline

Michael O'Leary
Michael O'Leary
John Mulligan

John Mulligan

Just as it would like to be, Ryanair has become the kingmaker in the battle for Aer Lingus. But even if Ryanair delays making a decision on a sale of its near 30pc stake in its smaller rival, the influence it wields now might quickly fade.

The UK's Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has ordered Ryanair to cut its stake in Aer Lingus to 5pc at most. It made the decision following competition concerns.

Ryanair has been battling the ruling, but is rapidly running out of avenues of appeal. The UK Court of Appeal has already upheld the CMA decision and now Ryanair is trying to appeal to the UK's Supreme Court. There's no certainty that it will even get permission to make that appeal.

If it doesn't, the CMA is certain to quickly proceed with a process to enforce the sell-down.

But Ryanair can also ask the CMA for permission to sell its entire Aer Lingus stake to IAG - something it hasn't even broached yet with the competition watchdog, however.

A big fear for the Government would be that it would publicly come out in favour of the Aer Lingus takeover, only for Ryanair to then say that it won't sell and that it didn't believe a takeover by IAG would be the best thing for Aer Lingus or the country. It would be a calculated move that would leave the Government with egg on its face.

Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary has conceded Aer Lingus needs to be sold to ensure its long-term future viability. But he has also been clear as to who that owner should be.

"I believe Aer Lingus should be owned over the longer term by Ryanair," he said in February. "I think it's the only way to keep it controlled and managed here in Ireland."

But Ryanair has made three failed attempts to buy Aer Lingus, having been blocked by Brussels. Even if it made a fourth bid it would undoubtedly fail.

At the €2.50 per Aer Lingus share that IAG has indicated it will pay, Ryanair will receive about €398m for its stake.

That compares with the €407m it paid for it and the Ryanair board will probably see the IAG offer as a deal worth taking.

Irish Independent

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