Tata-Jet Deal In Doubt: Caution Is Now The Watchword, Not Speed

by R Jagannathan - Nov 20, 2018 02:14 PM +05:30 IST
Tata-Jet Deal In Doubt: Caution Is Now The Watchword, Not SpeedA Jet Airways plane on a runway. (Ritesh Uttamchandani/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)
Snapshot
  • The Tata-Jet deal now faces more hurdles than once thought, more specifically because the Tata Sons board is wondering if it is buying into something that brings more pluses than minuses.

What looked like full-speed ahead on the Jet Airways deal now looks like an air pocket for the Tatas.

In recent days, with several members of the Tata Sons board advising caution on the Jet Airways buyout, it is possible to speculate that chairman N Chandrasekaran may be keeping his exit options open.

According to news reports, an internal committee has been set up to do due diligence on the financial aspects of a potential deal to buy out Jet Airways, and the word going out is extreme caution. A Business Standard report suggests that the Tatas will want Naresh Goyal entirely out of Jet if it is to acquire the company. Another report talks of the Tatas doing the deal entirely through a share swap with Vistara, which is a joint venture with Singapore International Airlines (SIA).

Yet another report indicates that the Tatas are working on a stiff non-compete clause for Goyal, which means not only that he can’t start another airline, but may even have to give up his travel business too.

The rise in the kind of conditions that the Tatas may seek to impose on Goyal before signing up means that the group is now growing increasingly wary about what it is getting into. By making it tougher for Goyal to accept a deal, the Tatas may be seeking to find an honourable way out, unless they get an extraordinarily sweetheart offer.

This is as it should be, for Jet comes with a lot of baggage, including lots of debt (over Rs 9,000 crore), and an owner whose reputation for sharp offshore deals has not gone unnoticed. As things stand, Jet is nobody’s favourite airline, is set to lose market share, and has a minority equity holder in the form of Etihad. For the Tatas, who have a tie-up with SIA, this additional partnership may have some costs attached. It is not clear what Etihad will do if Tatas and SIA want to get in together on Jet.

Etihad has a 24 per cent stake in Jet, and a majority in its loyalty programme, Jet Privilege. Until recently, Goyal was trying to cash in on the Jet Privilege valuation by selling his 49 per cent stake in it, but any Tata deal would have to include this. Which again means the Tatas may have also to buy Etihad out of this loyalty programme.

Jet operates some international routes through a code share with Etihad, which also will need rejigging if the Tatas enter the picture.

The Tata-Jet deal now faces more hurdles than once thought, more specifically because the Tata Sons board is wondering if it is buying into something that brings more pluses than minuses.

Don’t count on the deal going through.

Jagannathan is Editorial Director, Swarajya. He tweets at @TheJaggi.
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