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SIA rescues bleeding Tigerair after shock S$182.4m Q2 loss

Budget carrier to become subsidiary; Aussie joint venture sold to Virgin for A$1

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SINGAPORE Airlines (SIA) has come to the rescue of Tiger Airways again – this time with hard cash. The national carrier will be injecting up to S$140 million to plug the budget carrier's haemorrhage - PHOTO: SPH

Singapore

SINGAPORE Airlines (SIA) has come to the rescue of Tiger Airways again – this time with hard cash. The national carrier will be injecting up to S$140 million to plug the budget carrier's haemorrhage.

The funds will be part of a proposed rights issue Tigerair announced on Friday to raise S$234 million.

With its regional ambitions savaged by fierce competition, Tiger on Friday unveiled a staggering net loss of S$182.4 million for its fiscal second quarter ended Sept 30, 2014, compared with a net profit of S$23.8 million a year ago.

It also proposed a rights issue of about 1.2 billion new shares priced at 20 Singapore cents each, a 38 per cent discount to its close of 32.5 cents a share on Thursday.

SIA, which holds a 40 per cent stake in the company, said it will subscribe to its entitlement and excess rights shares, up to S$140 million. "Singapore Air is rescuing Tigerair," said K Ajith, a Singapore-based analyst at UOB Kay Hian. "With the conversion of securities and rights offering, there will be less risk to the balance sheet. I don't foresee Tigerair needing more funds after this."

Prior to the rights issue, SIA will convert its 189.39 million perpetual convertible capital securities (PCCS) holdings into shares. The conversion will raise SIA's stake in Tigerair from 40 per cent to about 55 per cent, and possibly up to 71 per cent after the rights issue, assuming SIA is the only one to subscribe for its rights and convert its PCCS.

SIA will not be making a general offer as Tigerair's minority shareholders had approved a whitewash resolution in March 2013 to waive their rights to receive a general offer as a result of the PCCS conversion.

In another telling development, Tigerair said it was exiting Australia, barely months after it exited Indonesia and the Philippines. It will sell its remaining 40 per cent stake in loss-making Tigerair Australia to Virgin Australia for A$1 – Virgin paid A$35 million for its existing 60 per cent stake barely 14 months ago. The estimated net loss arising from the sale is S$60.1 million.

"We need to now stem the losses arising from this joint venture and divert our resources back towards our Singapore-based airline in the execution of the turnaround plan," said Lee Lik Hsin, Tiger's chief executive since May and an SIA veteran for 20 years.

Dubbed the "Sale of the Century" by some analysts, the move was largely expected given that Tigerair Australia has been suffering operating losses since it started its services in Australia in 2007.

Its financial woes worsened after safety breaches grounded its entire fleet in Australia in 2011.

Already, the group's plunge into the red for the second quarter ended Sept 30 included S$161.1 million in one-off accounting provisions, comprising S$59.8 million for the divestment of Tiger Australia and S$99.3 million related to the sublease of surplus aircraft which it was forced to sublet at a discount to address its over-capacity headaches.

While analysts said it made sense for Tigerair to do a reset and focus on its Singapore carrier and its tie-up with Scoot - SIA's other no-frills, low-fare airline - many were surprised by the extent of the "value destruction".

"Shareholders must ask SIA and Tigerair for an explanation. Who's running the show? Details are sorely lacking," said an analyst.

Tigerair also needs to convince investors it still has a growth strategy, now that its regional wings have been clipped.

"They need to address a strategy going forward because they have divested Australia, they are out of Indonesia, out of the Philippines, so what next now?" said Derrick Heng, analyst at Maybank-Kim Eng. "Are they going to stay as a standalone unit just in Singapore? That will put them at a disadvantage to other players like AirAsia, which is growing across the whole region."

It is too early to say if SIA was throwing good money after bad. "On paper, all these make sense. Scoot and Tigerair have lots of synergies they can tap. But how the alliance will pen out, it is still a wait-and-see situation," said an analyst with a foreign bank.

Tigerair shares fell almost 11 per cent to a record low of S$0.29 apiece before recovering to end Friday at S$0.31, down 4.6 per cent on the day and nearly 40 per cent so far this year. SIA, a unit of Temasek, was unchanged at S$9.65 a share.

In Australia, local media reported that Virgin Australia signalled it plans to cut a bloated Tiger Australia fleet that has hobbled its own turnaround efforts.