China Eastern Airlines

Temasek and SIA still keen on buying stake in China Eastern

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 12 February, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 12 February, 2008, 12:00am

Temasek Holdings and Singapore Airlines remain committed to an alliance with China Eastern Airlines Corp despite their foiled bid for a stake in the mainland's third-largest carrier. But they would not give a timeline for finalising a deal.

Singapore Airlines and its parent, state-backed investment company Temasek, said the next stage was to work with China Eastern to win over shareholders who rejected their proposed bid in favour of rival Air China's higher offer.

'We are firmly committed to the deal,' said Ong Beng Teck, Temasek's managing director of investment. '[The company's China deals] involved long-term commitment. This deal is no different.'

The Singapore companies had offered HK$3.80 for each new H share making up a combined 24 per cent stake in China Eastern. But China National Aviation Corp, the parent of the mainland's biggest carrier Air China, came up with a better offer of HK$5 per share and the establishment of a strategic partnership.

However, Air China's advances were rebuffed by China Eastern, which dismissed CNAC's offer and said that SIA and Temasek were the only strategic investors they were interested in.

'That the China Eastern management remained committed to bring in strategic investors ... they should be applauded,' said Stephen Forshaw, SIA's vice-president of public affairs, adding that the Chinese airline executives would have come under immense pressure, even though Beijing had given its blessing on the China Eastern-SIA alliance.

Mr Forshaw said China Eastern would need to continue the dialogue with shareholders and win support for the deal under the current terms on which SIA and Temasek said they would stand firm. Both sides have an exclusivity period until August.

The terms include SIA's role in China Eastern's board and secondment of executives to the carrier to exchange management expertise, as well as co-operation in engineering, flight operations, human resources and training.

'We certainly hope the shareholders would see the long-term value ... of the partnership ... whether it is operational or financial,' said Wan Chee Foong, a director of investment at Temasek.

Although the Singapore executives indicated this was not a deal to be rushed, they said the sooner it materialised, the better for China Eastern, as much hinged on a recapitalisation to facilitate its restructuring.

A deal would also cement SIA's foothold in mainland markets, but could challenge Air China's Shanghai ambitions.

Air China was not available for comment yesterday.

Mr Forshaw said the proposed deal with China Eastern was a departure from SIA's previous investments, as it not only involved equity but also expertise.