Hong Kong poker ace sees embattled AirAsia as a winning bet

March 20, 2021
Photo: Brisbane Airport

Hong Kong businessman and professional poker player Dr Stanley Choi Chiu Fat has expressed confidence his bet on financially struggling AirAsia Group will pay off as the airline this week successfully completed the second tranche of a private share placement.

Dr Choi hit the headlines in February when he raised his AirAsia stake during the first tranche of the investment from less than 5 percent to 8.96 percent, or 332.5 million shares.

The success of the first tranche saw AirAsia’s share price jump, delivering tidy initial gain to the Hong Kong businessman.

READ: Last Airbus A380 takes off on maiden flight.

The second tranche of more than 100 million shares was completed on March 17 and means the private placement exercise now represents 14.07 percent of Air Asia Group’s total share issue and has raised a total of RM336.46million ($US$81.86m).

It forms part of AirAsia’s larger plans to raise up to $RM2.5 billion under an audacious restructuring plan that is still the subject of court action by debtors.

Choi is the chairman of Head & Shoulders Financial group, the chairman and executive director of listed company International Entertainment Corporation and a co-founder of YunFeng Capital.

He was joined in the private placement by aviation veteran David Bonderman, the chairman of TPG Capital and the former chairman of Ryanair, as well as partners at TPG Investing operating in a personal capacity.

Also on board was Montreal-based investment firm Aimia, a holding company with a focus on long-term investments such as PLM Premier, owner and operator of the Club Premier points program.

In an interview published by Malaysia’s The Star newspaper on March 20, Dr Choi said he believed the aviation prices bottomed out in July 2020 and he viewed his increased stake as a one-of-a-kind opportunity.

He expressed confidence that AirAsia executives would be able to overcome the airline’s current hardships, although he had yet to meet them.

But he still likened the investment to poker.

“In investing, the initial stages are similar to pre-flop plays where you gather information about your opponent, their personality, and the way they play before you decide to call or not,’’ he said.

“For my investment in AirAsia, I analyzed all the factors, the issues, operations, management issues, sectoral issues and I have all the information I needed. And it is obvious my decision is a call.”

AirAsia Group chief executive Tony Fernandes had earlier touted the overwhelming response to the placement as “clear testaments to AirAsia’s strong fundamentals and our tremendous future potential, especially with our pivot into digital and data-driven businesses.”

“On a wider scale, the private placement is a major vote of confidence towards the recovery of the aviation and tourism industry that (has) been severely battered by the Covid-19 pandemic,’’ he said in a statement.

“At AirAsia, we have robust plans that will allow us to survive on domestic services until international borders reopen.

“We are confident that the rollout of vaccination programs in our key markets that are set to immunize 40 percent – 50 percent of the populations by the third quarter of this year, coupled with better education and testing, alongside strong support for leisure travel bubbles among low-risk countries and territories, and the push for global digital health passports are steadily paving the way for a major travel reboot in the near future.”