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Norwegian Air CEO, chairman lift shares with stake increase

[OSLO] Norwegian Air Shuttle's chief executive and chairman raised their holdings in Europe's third-largest budget airline on Thursday, lifting its shares by 10 per cent.

The fast-growing budget airline, trying to crack the transatlantic market by undercutting established rivals, has faced mounting pressure to control costs and shore up its balance sheet to weather fierce competition.

Its shares are down 30 per cent from a year-high in January, and have been the subject of heavy short-selling.

Bjoern Kjos, Norwegian Air's founder and CEO, and board chairman Bjoern Kise spent US$24.4 million buying 803,000 shares at 240 Norwegian crowns(S$41.12), a 12 per cent premium to Wednesday's closing share price in Oslo.

The stake, corresponding to 2.24 per cent of the company's equity, raised their joint holding to 26.8 per cent. "The signal that the CEO and chairman have sent to the market with this purchase is extremely strong," said Pareto Securities analyst Kenneth Sivertsen, who holds a "buy"recommendation on the airline's shares.

Mr Kjos and Mr Kise's jointly owned investment firm, HBK Holding, said on Wednesday it intended to buy up to 1 million shares in a book-build via brokers Arctic Securities and Danske Bank.

Mr Kjos and Mr Kise were not immediately available for comment.

About 13.9 per cent of Norwegian Air's stock was subject to short-selling by Sept 12, the highest percentage of any Oslo-listed firm, data from Norway's markets regulator showed.