Hong Kong okays US$5b bailout for Cathay Pacific Airways
THE HONG Kong government on Tuesday approved a HK$39 billion (US$5 billion) recapitalisation plan for Cathay Pacific Airways, the latest financially battered airline to resort to government support to survive the coronavirus pandemic.
The plan calls for a new government-controlled entity called Aviation 2020 to buy HK$2.6 billion of an up to HK$33 billion share offering by Cathay Pacific.
The airline also would receive a HK$7.8 billion (US$1 billion) loan from Aviation 2020.
Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific proposed the bailout as it struggles to survive the nearcollapse of regional travel due to the pandemic.
“The objective is to help protect Hong Kong’s role as a leading international aviation hub in this region, as well as the long-term, overall economic development of Hong Kong, while generating a reasonable return for the government,” Hong Kong Financial Secretary Paul Chan told reporters.
Chan said that the government had no intention of becoming a long-term shareholder in Cathay Pacific, and would not interfere in the operations and management of the airline. If it exercises its rights to the shares it will hold up to a six per cent stake in the airline.
The government stands to earn a return of about four per cent to seven per cent from the investment, compared to an average 3.7 per cent return for the portfolio of Hong Kong’s sovereign wealth fund, the Exchange Fund, he said.
“We hope that during these difficult times that this can help (Cathay Pacific) recover, and when they do so, they can pay off the loans and buy back the preferred shares,” said Chan, adding that defending Hong Kong’s flight routes was crucial for maintaining the city’s status as a aviation hub.
Cathay Pacific, one of Asia’s biggest airlines, was founded in 1946 by two former Air Force pilots to help transport goods from Australia to China. It has been hamstrung by the recent collapse of regional travel on top of a decline in traffic to Hong Kong following months of antigovernment protests.
The airline has grounded most of its flights as travel remains restricted across much of the region.
“Cathay Pacific has explored available options and believes that a recapitalisation is required to ensure it has sufficient liquidity to weather this current crisis,” the airline said in the filing.
IN FULL SUPPORT
Cathay Pacific’s current largest shareholder, Swire Pacific, issued a statement saying it “fully supports” the recapitalisation plan.
Swire, a conglomerate descended from a trading house set up in Liverpool in 1816, holds a 45 per cent stake in Cathay Pacific. Air China, China’s state-owned flag carrier has a 30 per cent stake and Qatar Airways holds 10 per cent.
All three are committed to subscribing to an HK$11.7 billion (US$1.5 billion) rights issue as part of the bailout package.
Cathay Pacific said it plans executive pay cuts and a second voluntary leave scheme for employees on top of earlier costcutting measures.
In the first four months of the year, the number of passengers carried by Cathay Pacific plunged nearly 65 per cent amid a halving of capacity. The airline has been operating a skeletal network of flights to major destinations such as Singapore, Beijing, Los Angeles, New York and Tokyo.
Cargo, measured by weight, fell nearly 27 per cent in the first four months, against about a 25 per cent decrease in capacity, the airline said.
Chan pointed out that Hong Kong, unlike the United States and mainland China, lacks a domestic aviation market.
“If we don’t have international flights, then everything comes to a grinding halt,” he said.
Cathay Pacific and Cathay Dragon, the group’s two main carriers, reported a combined HK$4.5 billion unaudited loss in the first four months of 2020.
Cathay Pacific Airways aircraft line up on the tarmac at the Hong Kong International Airport.