Is Philippine Airlines for sale? ... Succession issues

Is Philippine Airlines for sale?

By Lala Rimando, abs-cbnNEWS.com

Posted at 01/13/2011 9:05 PM | Updated as of 01/17/2011 9:48 PM

MANILA, Philippines - There are ongoing talks between the management of local carrier Philippine Airlines (PAL) and potential investors.

This was confirmed on Jan. 13 by PAL Holdings, the listed firm that owns 85% of PAL.

However, these talks are purely "exploratory," stressed PAL Holdings in a disclosure to the stock exchange.

"Upon inquiry from the President of Philippine Airlines, Mr. Jaime Bautista, the latter neither confirmed nor denied any serious discussion with Mr. Ramon Ang on the purchase of 40% of Philippine Airlines, saying that any alleged talk with any party are all exploratory in nature," PAL Holdings' corporate secretary Ma. Cecilia L. Pesayco wrote in the disclosure.

The listed firm issued the disclosure after a columnist of The Philippine Star wrote that Ang, president of conglomerate San Miguel Corp, is PAL's "knight in shining armor" who is "dead set in getting into the airline business."

The same online piece added that PAL chairman taipan Lucio C. Tan has allegedly "decided to unload a substantial number of shares from the country's flag carrier with the right buyer and divest his holdings at a premium price."

Speculation has been rife that the 70-year-old airline is on the selling block after it encountered massive losses of US$312-million from 2008 to 2010 largely due to previous spikes in fuel prices, which account for bulk of its operating expenses.

Succession issues

Talk has also been rife that the health of Tan has been deteriorating. This has raised issues about succession.

Tan, who has several heirs and has had disputes with his most trusted brother and business partner, was considered to have cashed in on Fortune Tobacco, the undisputable leader in country's cigarette market for decades.

In February, Fortune inked a joint venture agreement with multinational cigarette maker Philip Morris for an undisclosed amount.

Besides PAL and Fortune Tobacco, Tan also owns considerable stakes in beermaker Asia Brewery, commercial banks Philippine National Bank and Allied Bank, among others.

Tan is the second richest in the country, next to mall magnate Henry Sy, and one of the three Filipinos whose wealth has breached the billion-dollar mark, based on estimates of Forbes.

His wealth stands at $1.2 billion in July 2010, according to Forbes. A big chunk of his fortune comes from Hong Kong-based Eton Properties, which has been pursuing affordable residential and sprawling township projects in the Philippines.

Interestingly, his son and namesake, Lucio Tan Jr., has been trying to move away from the shadows of the 77-year-old patriarch.

Tan Jr. has bought into MRC Allied, an inactive mining stock listed in the local stock exchange. MRC Allied has been tapping the capital markets -- instead of his dad's billions -- to raise funds for prospective projects in mining and power.

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