Commentaries

Now raising intellectual capital

Consolidation Air, nobody’s favourite airline

Photo

JAL/With airlines around the world struggling to survive the economic downturn, the time should be nearing to break the taboo of consolidation in the sector.

Airlines around the globe face losses of $11 billion in 2009, according to IATA. Margins are expected to fall this year and next, with analysts predicting carriers are likely to struggle for years to reach levels needed to produce an acceptable return for capital market investors.

Societe Generale estimated in a recent note that margins would drop to -3.1 percent in 2010 before recovering to 1 percent in 2011, well short of the 10 percent needed.

Effectively we are back to the ice age of 2001-2.

Eight years ago, the collapse of Sabena and Swissair kicked open the door of cross-border consolidation — within Europe at least. But while deals like Lufthansa’s merger with the Swiss airline allowed for some rationalisation, the merged entities remain hamstrung by national aviation regulations.

GM drives route 363, bondholders beware

     The rough justice meted out to General Motors bondholders may have short-circuited the bankruptcy process, but it has damaged the confidence that holders of other debt can have in their right to fair treatment.
    There will be a long-term cost, both to borrowers and lenders as a result. Key to this has been the use — by both GM and Chrysler – of section 363 of Chapter 11 of the U.S. bankruptcy code. By invoking the “emergency” need to restructure the companies, this section has allowed the automakers to speed through the sale of the viable parts of the businesses to new companies and leave the debt behind.
    While route 363 by-passes lengthy court hearings, its use to sell prime assets drives straight through the spirit of the code, which was meant to allow companies going through a Chapter 11 to jettison non-core assets quickly as part of a longer and wider reorganisation. It was not designed to cream off the best ones.
    Lawyers are already invoking the Chrysler and GM examples to try and get round long-established rules for reorganisations.
    The result would be to deprive bond investors of their rights in a company restructuring.
    GM bondholders who would normally have enjoyed preferred credit status in a Chapter 11 were railroaded by the Obama administration into giving the quick-fire sale the go-ahead, on the grounds that this was a one-off.
    From GM’s point of view, the process has worked well, allowing the business to emerge only 40 days after filing for bankruptcy. The cost of the turnaround has been $50 billion in emergency government financing. The longer-term cost in the much bigger market for corporate debt may be far larger.

  •