Virgin Australia Initial Bids Due Today

There may well be other corporate maneuverings going on in Australia, but the collapse and subsequent attempts to restructure Virgin Australia is the most compelling corporate show in town. The airline entered into voluntary administration on April 21 and has since been in the hands of receivers, Deloitte. The first round of non-binding takeover bids are due in at 18:00 tonight Sydney time.

The initial non-binding bids to buy Virgin Australia are due in tonight. Photo: Getty Images.

Up to eight initial bids expected tonight

There has been no shortage of interested parties, ranging from foreign airlines, private equity groups, governments, investment banks, businesses, and the odd tire-kicking billionaire. At times, keeping up with who’s talking to who has been akin to trying to keep tabs on a frisky 16-year old at a school dance.

While Deloitte’s Lead Administrator Vaughan Strawbridge has flagged up to 20 interested bidders, only about half this number have been given access to Virgin Australia’s accounts. As the clock ticks on those first bids today, Deloitte expects to see up to eight bids drop into their submission box tonight.

In a statement provided to Simple Flying, Mr Strawbridge said;

“Indications are strong that we will receive as many as eight indicative offers. We will then assess these over the next few days, working with the bidders to fully understand the details of their bids, enabling us to shortlist parties to participate in the next stage of the process. We expect to have a shortlist of around three.”

Singapore Airlines owner stalks Virgin Australia

Despite denying any interest in Virgin Australia, Singapore’s Temasek is tied into the expected bid by BGH Capital. The Melbourne based private equity group is considered to be a front runner in the bidding.

Temasek owns Singapore Airlines, which owned 20% of Virgin Australia. Mr Strawbridge has confirmed Singapore Airlines won’t be seeing a dime back from their ill-fated investment.

BGH Capital has also hooked up with local $110 billion superannuation fund, Australian Super. REX, who this week flagged plans to go it alone and start running jet services to Melbourne, has also been seen loitering around the BGH Capital boardroom.

Singapore Airlines’ owner Temasek wants to buy into a rebooted Virgin Australia. Photo: Singapore Airlines.

The Boston private investment firm Bain Capital is another serious potential bidder. During the past week, it was linked to Australia’s Future Fund, a local $100 billion-plus sovereign wealth fund. Bain also has highly regarded former Jetstar executive Jayne Hrdlicka working in the background.

It’s expected further potential investors will hop onboard any bid by Bain before the June deadline for binding bids.

A third potential bidder people are talking about is Canada’s Brookfield. The asset management company was in bed with Sydney’s powerhouse investment bank, Macquarie. The pair are now taking some time apart. Also linked to Brookfield is Perth based conglomerate Wesfarmers. They’ve also reportedly since backed off but remain interested, particularly in Virgin Australia’s profitable loyalty business, Velocity.

Brookfield is also linked to the Queensland Government’s investment vehicle, Queensland Investment Corporation (QIC). Queensland is the home of Virgin Australia and has repeatedly expressed an interest in buying into a bid for the resurrected airline.

That interest has descended into an entertaining but unedifying online spat between local politicians with allegations of corruption, chaos, and populous brain farts. One of the few grown-ups associated with that motley crew, QIC’s CEO Damien Frawley, has today said there would be no intial bid from the Queensland Government, but they would be talking to parties still in the game over the coming weeks.

Both IndiGo and Indigo are potential players

There are other potential bidders with the resources and abilities enough to take seriously. Despite initially denying interest, Indigo’s owner, InterGlobe Aviation has said today that it will be making a bid. They’ve hired Australia’s Investec and local blue-chip lawyers Corrs Chambers Westgarth to look after their interests.

Then there’s Indigo Partners who run a swag of low-cost airlines elsewhere in the world. They’ve been talking to Macquarie Bank and are also said to be looking at acquiring a local air operators certificate as a backup plan if they decide not to bid or join a bidding consortium.

Last week, Peter Harbison, Chairman at the Centre for Aviation told Simple Flying;

“I’ve known Bill Franke (managing partner at Indigo) and his group for many years. They take a very clinical approach to which markets they enter – or not.”

Longer priced runners sit off quietly

Also in the field is the US global asset management business, Oaktree Capital. They are part-owned by Brookfield. Oaktree has been linked to Etihad. The Abu Dhabi based airline is another part-owner of Virgin Australia (a 21% stake) who’s done their dough.

Etihad Airways has been loitering around the fringes of the bidding process. Photo: BriYYZ via Flickr.

There are also some outliers skulking around. Cash strapped Richard Branson, whose Virgin Group had a 10% stake in Virgin Australia and has also lost their money, remains keen on retaining a role in any future airline. Local iron ore billionaire Andrew Forrest has also kept up an interest. There are reliable reports he’s teamed up with Credit Suisse and is behind a bid being submitted today. Maybe he’s after some cut-price FIFO charter rates to his mines.

About the only surprise in the last couple of weeks is the failure of Clive Palmer to pop up with a wildcard plan.

Deloitte appears pleased with the interest the bidding process has generated. Vaughan Strawbridge said today;

“Up to now, we’ve certainly seen a high level of interest from a significant number of high-quality parties, many of whom are capable of completing a transaction of this size and complexity. Nearly 20 have had access to the data room and eight of these have been sufficiently advanced in their interest, and in the business as a whole, that they have been provided with the forward-looking Virgin 2.0 business plan.

“There is plenty of competitive tension, and that’s what’s needed to drive the best outcome, an outcome that preserves as many jobs as possible, and the best result for all creditors.”

Virgin Australia
The administrator would like to sell the airline intact. Photo: Getty Images

The administrator wants to sell airline as going concern, some potential bidders unenthused

Both Virgin Australia and the administrator, Deloitte, are wanting to sell the airline intact and as a going concern. They don’t want it broken up. Prospective bidders have to address 20 points related to this. For example, the administrators want any buyer to retain Virgin Australia’s key international routes. Yesterday it also emerged that the administrators want any new owners to buy eight Dreamliners to replace Virgin Australia’s current widebody fleet.

“As administrators, we have the benefit of seeing the whole business, and the many cost issues, contracts, and agreements that can be fixed during administration. The cost transformation we can achieve will help map the future viability of the business,” said Mr Strawbridge.

Deloitte is calling their requirements “aggressive.” But these conditions are said to be frustrating and deterring some potential bidders with several taking the view that Deloitte is being naive and not tackling key structural issues at Virgin Australia.

If the airline fails to find a buyer and goes into liquidation, distressed asset investors like Oaktree could come in and pick over the carcass. That’s not the desired outcome for Deloitte, Virgin Australia, its 10.600 employees, creditors, and many other stakeholders.

Deloitte says the next step is to start working with shortlisted bidders. Data and resources will be provided to facilitate a more detailed final proposal. Final binding offers will need to be in by June 12.