Monday, August 08, 2011

MAS, AirAsia share swap

By Jahabar Sadiq(Malaysia Insider)

The surprise share swap between Malaysia Airlines (MAS) and budget carrier AirAsia Bhd is slated to be sealed tomorrow in a deal that will allow Tan Sri Tony Fernandes to step in and pilot the ailing state-owned airline back to profitability.

The Malaysian Insider understands that the share swap will likely see a change in leadership with a new chief executive to replace Tengku Datuk Azmil Zahruddin, who took the job almost two years ago from Datuk Seri Idris Jala who is minister leading Malaysia’s economic transformation.

“There is a slew of meetings today to dot the i’s and cross the t’s but it’s done and has the blessings of Putrajaya,” a government source said, referring to the office of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, who is chairman of MAS’s ultimate owner, Khazanah Nasional Berhad.

Under the deal, Fernandes and his Tune Air Sdn Bhd partner Datuk Kamarudin Meranun are expected to swap a portion of their AirAsia shares for 20 per cent of Khazanah’s stake in MAS.

The state asset manager’s wholly-owned unit Penerbangan Malaysia Bhd (PMB) owns 69 per cent of MAS after the wide asset unbundling (WAU) restructuring programme carried out in 2002 by boutique consultancy BinaFikir. BinaFikir’s then boss Tan Sri Azman Mokhtar is now managing director of Khazanah.

Another BinaFikir consultant in the WAU, Mohd Rashdan Mohd Yusof, is Khazanah’s representative on the MAS board and was thought to be a potential chief operating officer after the share swap but sources say an outsider is likely to get the job.

“Most of the people in the MAS board are either bankers or accountants. What is needed is a person with airline experience,” an industry source said, pointing out that Fernandes himself is an accountant but has 10 years’ experience turning AirAsia into Asia’s largest budget carrier.

“Most of the past solutions for MAS, either the WAU or Jala’s business transformation plan, were financial in nature to keep the airline in the black. But what is needed are operational fixes,” he added.

The flag carrier recorded a first-quarter net loss of RM242.3 million against a profit of RM310.6 million in the same period a year ago. Tengku Azmil took over the reins of the company on August 28, 2009 from Jala.

Analysts expect the flag airline to make full-year operating losses for its current financial year ending December 31, in line with higher fuel costs and falling yields. Its sales director Datuk Bernard Francis recently resigned within 24 hours despite having a few more months in his contract.

MAS recently named former managing director Tan Sri Md Nor Md Yusof as its non-executive chairman from August 1, replacing long-serving chairman Tan Sri Dr Munir Majid.

Md Nor managed the airline between 2001 and 2004 where he implemented the WAU restructuring of MAS in 2002, involving uncoupling the airline’s massive debts and transferring of the MAS fleet to PMB.

Khazanah said yesterday it remain the biggest shareholder in MAS, following reports of the share swap. It did not deny the share swap but said it will make an announcement about the flag carrier’s transformation plan at an appropriate time.

“The aviation sector is a strategic sector to the economy and MAS remains a core holding in Khazanah Nasional Berhad’s portfolio. Khazanah will continue to maintain its position as the single largest shareholder in MAS,” the statement said.

Both Fernandes and Kamarudin also issued a statement denying that they will be the largest single shareholder in MAS but they did not deny news of the share swap.

The Malaysian Insider has reported that the share swap will ensure MAS reclaims its premier airline status while long-haul budget carrier AirAsia X will serve the low-cost market sector.

It will also lead to both carriers rationalising domestic routes and leave MAS subsidiary Firefly to only operate turbo-prop operations from the Skypark in Subang.

Malaysia Billionaire: Can the govt find some expertise for the stupid Proton so that it wont waste out tax payer money and impost heavy tax-duty on imported cars.