Air NZ boosts Virgin Australia stake

JAMIE FREED
Last updated 12:23 13/12/2013

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Air New Zealand, Singapore Airlines and Etihad Airways have boosted their combined stakes in Virgin Australia to 67 per cent after only one-quarter of Australian retail shareholders took up entitlements as part of a A$350 million (NZ$380m) capital raising.

The non-renounceable entitlement issue had been priced at a slim 5 per cent discount to its last trading price before it was launched and was sub-underwritten by the three airline shareholders.

More than 98 per cent of institutional shareholders had taken up their rights at A38 cents a share.

Air NZ, Singapore Airlines and Etihad had owned a combined 63 per cent before the capital raising.

Richard Branson's Virgin Group took up rights to maintain its 10 per cent stake but did not increase its holding.

Qantas Airways chief executive Alan Joyce had reacted angrily to Virgin's raising and launched a lobbying effort in Canberra. Qantas is restricted from being majority foreign-owned under the Qantas Sale Act.

A Qantas spokesman said the end result of the Virgin raising highlighted the airline's argument the playing field was uneven.

"Virgin Australia is now almost 80 per cent foreign-owned after receiving more than A$300m from state-owned enterprises but it has all of the international traffic rights reserved for majority Australian-owned carriers."

Virgin has split its international operations into a separate company that is majority Australian-owned but Qantas has called it a "sham".

Australian shareholder activist Stephen Mayne petitioned the Australian Takeovers Panel to allow Virgin's retail shareholders to apply for an unlimited amount of rights over and above those corresponding to their existing holding to compensate for the raising further concentrating ownership in the hands of the three airlines.

The panel said it had not declared unacceptable circumstances because the sub-underwriting did not result in a "material effect" on control of Virgin.

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- AFR

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