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Parent of South Korea's Asiana Airlines puts its stake up for sale

Asiana has 3.4t won in short-term obligations including 1.3t won of loans maturing 2019

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Passengers at Asiana Airlines counters at Incheon International Airport. Asiana has been struggling to get its finances in order as it battles rising fuel costs and competition from low-cost carriers.

Seoul

THE top shareholder of South Korea's second-largest carrier, Asiana Airlines, said on Monday that it would sell its entire stake in the debt-ridden firm to keep it afloat, sending shares of the carrier and its budget arm 30 per cent higher.

The move caps weeks of financial uncertainty involving the carrier which started last month when it failed to win auditors' sign-off on its 2018 financial statements, triggering warnings of credit ratings downgrades and the resignation of the parent group's chairman.

Its shares have since more than doubled, as its top shareholder Kumho Industrial pledged to sell the airline should it fail to reduce the airline's debt, raising expectations for potential takeover interest.

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The restructuring plan, however, was rejected by creditors last week for not being sufficient to restore market trust in the indebted carrier, which has 3.4 trillion won (S$4.1 billion) in short-term obligations including 1.3 trillion won of loans maturing this year.

In a revamped proposal on Monday, Kumho, which owns one-third of Asiana, said it would sell the entire stake and also offer the 500 billion won holding as collateral to creditors for interim loans.

"This is going to be a hot deal, as many local conglomerates want to get into the airline business so there are expectations of a coveted takeover deal," said Lee Han-joon, an analyst at KTB Investment Securities.

Choi Go-woon, an analyst at Korea Investment & Securities, said several conglomerates or a consortium of firms involved with duty free shop businesses might be interested in Asiana.

He said telecoms-to-chemicals conglomerate SK Group and retail-focused Aekyung Group, which also has budget carrier Jeju Air , could be potential suitors.

Representatives for SK Group and Jeju Air denied any interest in buying the Asiana stake.

Shares in Asiana were up by the daily limit of 30 per cent at their highest in more than three years. Local media earlier on Monday reported that Kumho had decided to sell a one-third stake in the carrier.

Shares in Asiana's low-budget carrier affiliate Air Busan also surged 30 per cent.

Asiana has been struggling to get its finances in order as it battles rising fuel costs and competition from low-cost carriers.

Kumho Industrial has yet to pick a sale manager. Its shares also jumped 30 per cent on Monday.

Officials from Kumho Asiana Group and creditors have been negotiating a fresh restructuring plan since the initial proposal was turned down, two officials from a main creditor told Reuters.

State-run Korea Development Bank, the main creditor of Kumho Asiana group, said creditors would hold a meeting to review the revised plan.

The family-controlled Kumho Asiana Group's former chairman, Park Sam-koo, is the top shareholder of the holding company Kumho & Company Incorporation, which has a 45 per cent stake in Kumho Industrial. REUTERS