British Airways-owner IAG's Norwegian deal stalls

  • The announcement puts a dampener for now on mergers and acquisitions in the European airline market.
A Boeing 737 passenger aircraft, operated by Norwegian Air Shuttle ASA, takes off at London Gatwick Airport in Crawley, U.K.
Simon Dawson | Bloomberg | Getty Images
A Boeing 737 passenger aircraft, operated by Norwegian Air Shuttle ASA, takes off at London Gatwick Airport in Crawley, U.K.

British Airways-owner IAG said it had been unable to reach agreement on a possible takeover offer for Norwegian after holding talks with the struggling airline's board, putting a dampener for now on M&A in the European airline market.

"IAG is currently considering its options in relation to Norwegian," IAG said in slides for a presentation on Friday. It bought a 4.6 percent stake in Norwegian in April with a view to starting takeover discussions.

Norwegian said in response it had received two proposals on a full takeover from IAG but had rejected them as undervaluing the company.

Releasing first quarter results on Friday, IAG stuck to a forecast for annual profit growth after announcing a 75 percent jump in quarterly profit, in results that showed it was striding ahead of rival Air France-KLM.

The jump in quarterly profit was boosted by favorable currency moves, plus higher ticket prices and better sales, helped by strong demand on its lucrative trans-Atlantic routes, and after its costs excluding fuel fell.

The improved earnings and reduced costs at IAG contrast sharply with those of rival Air France-KLM, which reined in profit and growth expectations for this year due to an ongoing series of costly strikes at its main Air France brand.

Shares in IAG gained 5 percent, while Air France-KLM shares slumped 5 percent in early trades.

Lufthansa Group also reported its best first-quarter operating margin in 10 years last week for its main Lufthansa brand thanks to robust demand.

Waiting game

Shares in Norwegian slid 8 percent following the news that no offer would be immediately forthcoming.

The chief executive of IAG had earlier declined to answer questions about Norwegian on the group's quarterly earnings call.

"I am not saying anything about Norwegian," CEO Willie Walsh told reporters, when asked about a possible deal.

IAG has led M&A in the European airline sector since its formation through the merger of British Airways and Iberia in 2011, but over the last year its rival Lufthansa has been at the forefront of consolidation, snapping up Brussels Airlines and parts of insolvent Air Berlin.

IAG's move for Norwegian came after Norwegian had to issue new shares in March to try to shore up its balance sheet and help it weather higher costs and deepening losses as it gambles on a huge expansion of its low-cost long-haul business.

Norwegian said in late April that a number of groups had made advances since IAG bought its stake earlier in the month.

IAG posted operating profit before exceptional items of 280 million euros ($335 million) for the first three months of 2018, beating an analyst consensus forecast of 206 million euros.

The consensus forecast was derived from a range of between 70 million euros and 310 million euros, according to an analyst note, with the spread reflecting uncertainty over currency and fuel impacts.