November 18, 2013
The New Zealand government is selling off a significant stake in Air New Zealand, although it will still retain majority ownership of the carrier.
The government currently holds about 73% of Air New Zealand, and will divest 20%. The sale is expected to yield up to NZ$400 million ($334 million). The shares will be placed with retail brokers and institutional investors, with the requirement that they must be sold to New Zealanders. The government’s goal is to have the carrier at least 85% locally owned.
Following the announcement of the sale on Nov. 17, trading in Air New Zealand shares was suspended. Trading is expected to resume on Nov. 20, when retail brokers will offer their allocated shares.
The move has been signaled for several months, although the government has put its plan on hold partly due to vocal political and public opposition to the sale of state-owned assets. The government has also been carrying out its plans to sell significant stakes in power companies.
The Air New Zealand share sale will occur just days before the government holds a national referendum on the issue of asset sales, which has become a polarizing topic. The sell-down of the airline stake has been caught up in the more fierce arguments about the power company share sales, although Air New Zealand is in a different category since it is already publicly traded.
New Zealand’s government became a shareholder in the airline by necessity rather than choice. The government was forced to step in to bail out Air New Zealand in 2002 to prevent it collapsing. It held more than 80% for a period after that, but has taken a hands-off approach to running the airline.
Air New Zealand reported a net profit of NZ$182 million for the 12 months through June 30, more than doubling its profit compared to the previous fiscal year. While the government has been collecting dividends on its shareholding, senior ministers say they are selling at a good time because shares are trading at a five-year high. The government intends to use the proceeds to pay down debt and to invest in infrastructure.