Air New Zealand cancels dividend as it secures $NZ900m govt. loan

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March 20, 2020
Air New Zealand
Photo: Airbus

Air New Zealand has completed a deal for a $NZ900m government standby loan facility as it tackles the devastating impact of COVID-19.

The arms-length facility provides the Kiwi carrier with back-up funding it can draw on if its cash reserves run low.

The airline also canceled its dividend and its shares nose-dived by more than a third when a trading halt was lifted after the loan announcement Friday.

The coronavirus crisis has sent airlines into a tailspin worldwide and threatens the viability of some carriers.

READ: Australia and New Zealand shut down foreign arrivals.

The loan is intended to ensure the Kiwi carrier is not one of them.

Chief executive Greg Foran, now in his seventh week at the helm of the airline, said he had been focused on ensuring Air New Zealand had the best chance of getting through COVID-19.

“We were operating 3600 flights a week it’s going to fall to below 1500 over the next few weeks,” he said.

“So this business looks different, feels different to the one that it was seven weeks ago and it’s likely to be that way over the next few months.”

Foran said the airline had seen it as important to secure finance quickly and that he expected the loan to see the airline through the crisis if it continued.

“We’ve gone through our forecasts and $NZ900 million is the right number for us,” he said.

“I can’t speculate any more than anyone else on how long this will go and the impact but, based on our best forecasts, we’re very happy with that number.”

Emphasizing that the situation was evolving,  Foran said the airline’s forecast indicated it would not need to access the funding in the near term.

He said the hope was that the airline wouldn’t need the loan but it was there if it did.

“And if we do use it, part of our objective will be to pay it back as quickly as we can,” he said.

He also noted that Air New Zealand had proven its resilience over many years.

“We’re going to get through this,” he said. “I’m very confident of that. At some point, we’ll see booking begin to grow and we’ll start putting some more flights back on.”

Both Foran and Air NZ chairman Dame Therese Walsh acknowledged the Government’s support of the loan facility.

“The Government and Treasury moved swiftly to ensure that Air New Zealand had financial certainty as demand for flights domestically and internationally has rapidly fallen due to travel restrictions implemented by countries around the world,” Walsh said.

“The loan facility ensures that Air New Zealand can continue to play a vital role in connecting New Zealanders and our businesses with each other here at home and around the world.”

The airline is 52 percent owned by the government and New Zealand Finance Minister Grant Robertson said New Zealand was at risk of not having a national airline without the intervention.

“Air New Zealand has a unique and critical role in our economy and society,” he said.

“Also, the government owns 52 percent of the company, which means we have a responsibility towards it. We have acted swiftly to put this loan agreement in place and support our national carrier.”

The facility will be provided in two tranches: a $NZ600m tranche with an effective annual interest rate expected to be between 7 percent and 8 percent and second tranche of $NZ300m with an interest rate in the order of 9 percent.

The facility will be able for 24 months with interest rates of both tranches stepping up by 1 percent if the facility remains after 12 months.

The airline said the debt funding would be used to support its business operations and is subject to conditions that include an operating finance plan involving the New Zealand government.

The airline also canceled the 2020 interim dividend of 11 cents a share, worth $NZ123m, announced last month.

This was a pre-requisite of the standby loan but the airline’s board of directors said they believed it was in the best interests of the airline given the highly uncertain environment that exists.

Other terms of the agreement prevent Air New Zealand paying any payments or distributions to shareholders while any amount is available to be drawn and the airline has provided certain of its assets as security.

The New Zealand Government can also seek repayment through a capital raise after six months or convert the loan into equity.

Air New Zealand recently brought forward the planned closure of its Heathrow base and is suspending the majority of its international flights as well as cutting back domestic services as part of its response to the coronavirus outbreak.

The airline is in talks to stand down up to 30 percent of its staff and is looking at offering options such as taking leave, leave without pay and voluntary exits.