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Air China parent calls SIA-China Eastern deal "unfair"

Reuters
Wednesday, 2 Jan 2008 | 12:01 AM ET

Air China's parent called on Tuesday a US$920 million investment by Singapore Airlines in rival carrier China Eastern unfair and too cheaply priced, suggesting the aviation firm will vote against the impending acquisition.

In the first formal expression of its views, China National Aviation Corp (Group) Ltd -- which owns more than 12 percent of China Eastern's stock -- urged China Eastern, Singapore's flag carrier and investment group Temasek Holdings to return to the negotiating table to tweak their acquisition proposal, but did not elaborate.

Investors have long speculated that CNAC, whose Air China completed a two-way investment deal with Singapore Airlines' rival Cathay Pacific last year, would vote against the deal, under which Singapore Air planned to buy 24 percent of China Eastern for HK$3.80 per share.

The Chinese carrier's shareholders vote Jan. 8 on the deal.

The deal "is unfair to the domestic and international investors, and other domestic airlines, and may also place a potential obstacle to the future development of the domestic airlines industry as a whole," CNAC said.

The offer price "does not reflect the fair value of China Eastern."

CNAC's strongly worded comments came days after news emerged that Air China Chairman Li Jiaxiang had been appointed chief of the country's top civil aviation regulator, though sources close to the situation could not explain the abrupt shift.

Li told Reuters in October he did not rule out voting against the agreed purchase.

Air China -- the world's most valuable airline -- and partner Cathay had pondered buying into China Eastern months ago, but then announced in September it would abandon that effort for at least three months.

China Eastern and Singapore Airlines were not immediately available for comment, and it was not clear if the carriers would be forced to re-open discussions.

Chew Choon Seng, chief executive of Singapore Airlines, said last month his firm would not raise its bid for the stake in China Eastern.

Air China's Hong Kong-listed shares jumped 4.7 percent on Friday morning, buoyed in past by speculation Singapore Air might have to raise its offer price.

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