Ryanair says it is prepared to sell its stake in rival Aer Lingus in a bid to appease a British anti-competition probe, a move analysts said was an apparent gambit to avoid a forced selldown.
Europe’s biggest budget airline said it would unconditionally sell its 29% shareholding to an EU airline that makes an offer to buy out Aer Lingus.
It described the move as a remedy to appease the UK Competition Commission, which said in June the stake could obstruct Aer Lingus from merging to stay competitive.
Ryanair spokesperson Robin Kiely said the Competition Commission had invented the allegations it was undermining Aer Lingus’s competitiveness.
“The only remaining “concern” they can now dream up is that Ryanair’s 29% stake might prevent another EU airline buying Aer Lingus; despite six-and-half years of evidence (and repeated public statements) that no other EU airline has any interest in acquiring Aer Lingus,” he said.
Ryanair has held the stake for more than six years and has itself made several failed takeover bids for the former Irish flag carrier.
The Competition Commission is due to rule on a possible forced sale of the stake in September.
Analysts said the move did not necessarily mean Ryanair was ready to give up its shareholding, which Aer Lingus has said gives it undue influence over a rival in a key market.
“This changes nothing as there are no obvious buyers,” said Donal O’Neill an analyst at Goodbody Stockbrokers.
“This will form the basis of an appeal” against a likely Competition Commission decision to force a sale, buying Ryanair time, he said.
Any appeal could scare off other possible strategic investors in Aer Lingus and frustrate the Government’s efforts to divest its 25% stake to cut its debt.
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