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MAS - Negative Swissair and Auditor's View
By Kapal Berita

31/10/2000 10:57 pm Tue

28 Oct 2000

Business Times Singapore

Swissair denies it wants to buy MAS stake from Naluri

MAS shares fell 26 sen to close at RM3.44 yesterday


Swissair has denied it is interested in buying a stake in Malaysian Airline System Bhd from major shareholder Naluri Bhd.

The Edge weekly magazine had reported earlier that Swissair was interested in MAS but did not cite a source.

"That's not at all true," said Hans Klaus, a spokesman for Swissair in Zurich.

Malaysia this week said it would soon name a foreign shareholder for the airline, Asia's seventh-largest by number of passengers carried.

It is aiming to make MAS more competitive and make it profitable again and has raised the foreign investor limit to 45 per cent from 30 per cent to achieve that end.

Qantas Airways, Australia's dominant carrier, and KLM Royal Dutch Airlines have also been named previously as being interested in taking a stake in the airline.

MAS shares fell 26 sen to close at RM3.44 yesterday.

MAS is 29 per cent owned by Naluri, backed by businessman Tajudin Ramli. Naluri plans to cut its stake in MAS to reduce its own debt of RM1 billion (S$447 million).

The Brunei Investment Agency owns 9 per cent of MAS while smaller stakes are held by state-run investment funds such as the Employees Provident Fund and Kumpulan Wang Amanah Pencen.

Further, the Finance Ministry holds a special share, known as the golden share, which gives the state a veto right in major decisions such as the appointing of directors and the raising of fares.

The plan is for Naluri to sell its stake to the state, which would then sell a partial stake to a foreign carrier to help turn around the unprofitable airline.

MAS posted its first loss in 11 years in the year ended March 1998 as the devaluation of the Malaysian ringgit during Asia's financial crisis hurt the airline's ability to repay foreign debts.

The company racked up foreign exchange losses of RM3.48 billion in fiscal 1998.

As of June 30, MAS had long-term debt of RM10.1 billion, of which 77 per cent was dollar-denominated with another 18 per cent in Japanese yen.

Demand for air travel also fell during the country's economic recession in 1998, plunging it into a second year of losses.

The carrier sold 11 airplanes in 1998 to raise RM620 million.

This year, MAS efforts to raise domestic airfares to cope with rising fuel costs have been stalled by the government which fears it would hurt its citizens, especially those in East Malaysia.

A stake sale is complicated because Naluri paid about RM2 billion for its MAS stake, or about RM8.70 a share, more than double what the price is now.

The government has also said it will not relinquish its golden share, raising investor concerns they would be overruled by the state's strategic interests over the airlines' commercial concerns, analysts said. -- Bloomberg

From The Star
30th October 2000

Auditor-General Report

Low number of foreign airline flights to Malaysia

By Foo Yee Ping, Lee Yuk Peng and Sim Leoi Leoi

THE number of weekly flights to Malaysia by foreign airlines is significantly lower than Thailand and Singapore in 1997 and 1998.

The report said foreign tour operators had complained of difficulties in coming here because there were no direct flights and inadequate number of seats on them.

"Our checks showed that 17 foreign airlines which ply routes to Thailand and Singapore, do not fly to Malaysia.

"For the 27 foreign airlines that do, weekly flights to Kuala Lumpur only number 155 times while Singapore has 448 and Thailand 436,'' it stated.

An easier access to the country by air was vital to Malaysia's tourism industry, the report said.

"In 1998, the number of flights to Kuala Lumpur was 884 and the capacity was 207,256 seats.

"Singapore has 1,405 flights with seat capacity of 359,314 and Thailand 1,149 and 311,703 respectively,'' said the report.

The report noted that it only took RM13.38 in promotion costs to persuade a foreign tourist to visit Malaysia, but RM36.34 to Singapore and RM30.14 to Thailand.

The average income generated by a foreign tourist in Malaysia (RM1,550.26) was also significantly lower than in Singapore (RM4,387.74) and Thailand (RM3,146.24).

It said the Malaysian Tourism Promotion Council was also facing difficulties in selling local tourist destinations as its staff lacked knowledge in both foreign languages and marketing skills.

"Out of its 35 senior staff, 19 have never attended marketing courses.

"For language skills, only seven of 443 council officers are fluent in a foreign language while another 35 are only moderately so,'' it said.