Qatar Airways is extending its global ambitions with plans to buy a stake in Latam Airlines Group SA, securing a partnership with South America’s biggest carrier as it scouts for opportunities to lock down relationships with other airlines.
Qatar will buy as much as 10 percent of Santiago, Chile-based Latam for $613 million, the No. 2 Gulf carrier said Tuesday at the Farnborough Air Show. With the agreement, Qatar is making its second investment in a fellow member of the Oneworld alliance after building up a 15.7 percent stake in IAG SA, which is one of Latam’s closest allies.
State-owned Qatar is advancing its efforts to build a network of international partners, even though its influence is typically limited by laws restricting foreign shareholdings. In addition to its stake in IAG and the deal with Latam, it’s also interested in Royal Air Maroc, which would provide access to North African markets, as well as Italy’s Meridiana SpA. Qatar said separately Tuesday that it may consider increasing its stake in IAG, which owns British Airways.
With the Latam agreement, Qatar Airways aims to profit from the Chilean airline’s revenue- and cost-sharing pact with IAG. Shareholdings in the carriers also cement ties on both sides of the Atlantic as the Gulf operator seeks to funnel more passengers through its Doha hub and offset lower demand in the Middle East from low oil prices.
“Latam represents an exciting opportunity to invest and support the development of our long-term relationship,” Qatar Airways Chief Executive Officer Akbar Al Baker said at a briefing. The planned investment will open up the possibility of linking with Latam’s passenger and cargo operations, he said.
Latam jumped 14 percent to 5,200 pesos at 11:17 a.m. in Santiago after regulators lifted a trading suspension. The company’s American depositary receipts earlier surged as much as 28 percent to $8.85 for the biggest intraday increase since November 1998.
The deal will be positive for Latam as it will improve the carrier’s debt ratios and bolster its competitive position since it was the only local airline that didn’t have a major global airline among its shareholders, Santiago-based brokerage Banchile Inversiones said in an e-mailed note to clients.
To facilitate Qatar’s purchase, Latam plans to increase its capital by issuing new stock at $10 a share. The company, which was formed through a merger of Chile’s Lan and Brazilian operator TAM in 2012, will put the proposal to its investors by Sept. 2.
Other agreements haven’t gone as smoothly. Talks with Meridiana over the purchase of a 49 percent stake have been complicated by union opposition to job cuts. Qatar is prepared to walk away from the deal as it “will not accept blackmail by staff,” Al Baker said, referring to walkouts from employees that left passengers stranded. “What is happening at the airline does not give us comfort.”
Qatar Airways said Monday it more than quadrupled net income to 1.6 billion Riyals ($439 million) in the 12 months through March, with growth to be led by Africa and India. The airline also sees “strong underlying” demand in South America and China.
Latam is faring less well, with a slump in Brazilian traffic likely to force it to delay or cancel some of the 53 wide-body jet orders placed by the company’s constituent units before its formation, CEO Enrique Cueto said last month. He said Tuesday that the airline was “very proud” to partner with Qatar Airways.
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