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Bank Bailout For Kingfisher Hangs In Balance; RBI Not Against It

22 February, 2012

Lenders to Kingfisher Airlines have not agreed to extend further loans to the debt-crippled carrier, three banking sources said on Wednesday after reports that State Bank of India (SBI) had agreed on a bailout loan package.

Several newspapers reported that SBI had agreed to throw a lifeline to Kingfisher, which is majority owned by liquor baron Vijay Mallya, giving figures ranging from 2.0 to Rs 16.5 billion.

But banking sources told Reuters the airline’s consortium of 16 lenders, which includes SBI, were still studying a debt-restructuring proposal put forward last week.

“I don’t think any individual bank can take a decision,” said a source at the Punjab National Bank, India’s second-largest public sector lender. “It will have to be decided by the consortium.”

“We have to study the proposal, seek clarifications and then take a call individually,” said another source at IDBI Bank.

SBI’s chief financial officer, Diwakar Gupta, declined to comment.

Desperately strapped for cash, Kingfisher Airlines stands on the brink of collapse after nearly a week of flight cancellations and the resignation of dozens of its pilots.

India’s second-largest airline until this year, Kingfisher has not turned a profit since it was founded in 2005 and is now carrying a debt burden of $1.3 billion.

Its revenue has been in decline since the end of last year and now, staff are not being paid and tax bills remain outstanding. A tax official said the airline’s tax arrears for financial 2011/12 was around Rs 400 million.

“No Government Lifeline”

Mallya has blamed his cash crunch on the tax authorities, which last week froze Kingfisher’s bank accounts over its unpaid dues. On Wednesday, Finance Secretary R.S. Gujral denied media reports that the accounts had been unblocked.

Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh said Kingfisher Airlines could not expect the government to pull it back from the brink, as it did state-owned Air India.

“The government is not going to bail it out, but we hope Kingfisher can mobilise its resources somehow because if they don’t then there will be more problems for the passengers,” he told reporters.

“We have made it very clear, and I’m sure Mr. Mallya knows that Air India is a government concern. Whatever help we give them, we cannot do it to any private industry. If the banks can loan them money, then it’s all good.”

There are no provisions for companies to declare themselves legally bankrupt in India. Analysts said Kingfisher could simply shut down overnight if it fails to secure fresh equity that would shore up the sagging confidence of its creditors.

“If they don’t get fresh equity, obviously they are doomed. They don’t have the money for maintenance, for employee salaries, for anything,” Sharan Lillaney, an aviation analyst at Angel Broking, told Reuters on Tuesday.

Kingfisher shares, which plunged nearly 20 per cent on Tuesday before recovering, were slightly higher on Wednesday after the media reports that fresh loans were on the way.

Mallya is also chairman of United Breweries (Holdings), a conglomerate with interests as diverse as aviation, breweries, biotechnology and real estate. The group has annual sales of more than $4 billion.

His airline – named after his famous brand of Indian beer – has become one of the main casualties of high fuel costs and a fierce price war between a handful of budget carriers which, between them, ordered hundreds of aircraft for delivery over the next decade in an ambitious bet on the future.

Five out of six major carriers are losing money, and analysts estimate that the industry overall is on course to lose up to $3 billion for the financial year ending next month.

Shares in Kingfisher have dropped around 60 per cent since the start of last year, shrinking its market value to $269 million. Its domestic market share has almost halved in recent months from about 20 per cent.

RBI Not Opposed To Banks Lending To Kingfisher Airlines

The Reserve Bank of India is “absolutely not” opposed to banks lending to debt-laden Kingfisher Airlines if they feel they can recover their money, Deputy Governor K.C. Chakrabarty told reporters on Wednesday.

Lenders to Kingfisher have yet to agree on extending further loans to the money-losing carrier, three banking sources said earlier after reports that one state-owned creditor had agreed on a bailout loan package.

Kingfisher Gives New Flight Plan To DGCA

Struggling Kingfisher Airlines has submitted a new flight plan to the aviation regulator to operate 175 daily flights with 28 aircraft, a senior government source said on Wednesday.

The regulator has asked other carriers to accommodate Kingfisher’s passengers, the source said, as the airline stands on the brink of collapse after nearly a week of flight cancellations and the resignation of dozens of its pilots.


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Bank Bailout For Kingfisher Hangs In Balance; RBI Not Against It

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