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Alitalia to buy into Air Malta?

An excerpt from our monthly Travel Business Analyst newsletter.


-Alitalia (AL) and Air Malta (AM) have signed an agreement where AL may buy 49% of AM. (Apparently; no photos, no date, no place, no announced signatories.)

-51% of AL is owned by CAI. Biggest shareholders in CAI-ergo-AL are Intesa Sanpaolo, a bank, 21%; Poste Italiane 19%; Uni Credit, a (troubled) bank 13%. Other notables: Benetton 7%; Pirelli (now China owned) 3%. Air France-KLM bought 25% but after staying out of various capital injections for AL, their share is now down to 7%. The other 49% is owned by Abu Dhabi’s state-owned airline, Etihad. Almost 100% of AM is owned by the Malta state.

Some comments:



-Usually, when an announcement is made about one company buying another, if friendly, all involved are full of praise for everything. New head of AL, Cramer Ball, seemed a bit churlish saying, in effect, ‘we will look at the books and then decide if we will go ahead’. Does this mean that the buying announcement came sooner than expected (was it about to be leaked?), or does AL need to think about the reaction of the European Commission, or something else?


-AM’s statement, via the state’s minister (of ‘tourism’) responsible for AM was similarly downbeat. Both AL and AM have been losing money for a long time, but both say they will make profits in 2017; there are no clear indications that this will happen.




Malta said there would be no job losses at AM. Ok, he didn’t put a time on it (so they could fire people in 2017), but that is one of the major problems at AM – too many staff and too many on easy terms/too-high pay. The same problem, ironically, as at AL. As we once said about AL, if the CEO cannot fire half the staff, and re-motivate those left (or maybe fire 100% and rehire 50%?), then it will be hard to ever make consistent profits. (To make short-term profits in most companies is easy.)



European Commission.

We see no problem with this. However, Italy has run rings around the EC on state bailouts for AL, so the EC may be awkward. There is a precedent of the EC being awkward. It once stopped Ryanair buying Aer Lingus because it said Ireland needs competing airlines. It ignored the fact that in the European Union, there is competition everywhere.




-How can AL help AM? And/or what does AL bring? We are lost. We can see no advantage to AM. Malta’s minister talks of linking into the networks of AL and Etihad. That is good for whom – Malta residents travelling out? Visitors? There are already so many options for travellers at good prices. And particularly as far as Etihad is concerned; it has a vibrant local (Gulf) competitor in Emirates, which is 3-times its size.


-What does AM bring to AL? Not much. AM is not a profitable airline (and its business prospects are threatened-maybe-destroyed by no-frills-airlines such as Easyjet, Ryanair, Vueling moving onto AM’s routes, and more). Traffic feed? Surely AM’s home market is too small? Connections? But to where – AM does not have an extensive network, and nothing on Malta’s geographical position as a point on the way to North Africa , although at present this is a moribund area for air traffic development.




-Buying price; we believe AM might be worth US$500mn, so US$250mn for 50%. Coincidentally, that is close to the amount that AL lost in 2015.


-Where would the money coming from? AL and AM are both losing money. Alitalia says it will return to profitability in 2017. Good luck; not only is a target and therefore not a certainty, but it will not be easy in any case.




-Okay, this is where the actual cash will come from* (ie from the gullible ruler of Abu Dhabi, Etihad’s owner). But why does it want AM? Again, we can see no strong positive, although the same could be said about Etihad’s other investments in Europe, in Air Serbia, Darwin (from Switzerland, despite that name) and, before, Aer Lingus.


-Would AM be turned into an Etihad Regional airline? If that is the case , will AM turn into a feeder airline for EU routes with bases outside Malta? That cannot be done with Air Serbia, which is non-EU. It could with Darwin, but Switzerland has proposed some law changes that could end unrestricted flights Switzerland-EU.



*Etihad owns 49% of AL (a share limited to under-50% to ensure that it does not run into problems with the European Commission; 50% and more would mean Alitalia is not a European Union airline). And AL would own 49% of AM. It could take a bigger share , near 100%, and AM would still not lose its EU status.




The Fox

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