April 18, 2019 / 2:58 AM / a month ago

UPDATE 2-Jet shares sink, but lenders hopeful of successful bids for grounded airline

* Jet stopped flying indefinitely on Wednesday evening

* Carrier was once India’s largest private airline

* Lenders declined to extend more funds to maintain flights

* Jet shares fall 34 pct, SpiceJet up 15 pct, InterGlobe up 3 pct (Recasts, adds share prices, ministry meeting)

By Tanvi Mehta

MUMBAI, April 18 (Reuters) - Jet Airways shares sank 34 percent on Thursday in a sign investors were sceptical about a revival, even as lenders to the carrier said they are “reasonably hopeful” the bidding process for the grounded Indian airline will end successfully.

Jet Airways, once India’s largest private airline, on Wednesday evening halted all flight operations indefinitely after lenders led by State Bank of India declined to extend more funds to keep it going. Jet shares plunged to the lowest since April 2009 in early trade on Thursday.

The carrier, saddled with roughly $1.2 billion of bank debt, has been teetering for weeks after failing to receive a stop-gap loan of about $217 million from its lenders, as part of a rescue deal agreed in late March.

Investors have doubts over whether a successful deal can be completed, said Shukor Yusof, the head of aviation consultancy Endau Analytics. “Jet Airways’ value is dwindling with each passing day,” he added.

At its peak, Jet operated over 120 planes and well over 600 daily flights. The airline, which has roughly 16,000 employees, has in recent weeks been forced to cancel hundreds of flights and to halt all flights out of India as funds dried up.

“The lenders after due deliberations decided that the best way forward for the survival of Jet Airways is to get the binding bids from potential investors who have expressed EOI and have been issued bid documents on 16th April,” the lenders said on Thursday, referring to expressions of interest.

“Lenders are reasonably hopeful that the bid process is likely to be successful in determining fair value of the enterprise in a transparent manner.”

CNBC-TV18 reported on Tuesday that Jet’s lenders were set to invite binding bids from four shortlisted suitors that include private equity firms TPG Capital and Indigo Partners, Indian wealth fund National Investment and Infrastructure Fund (NIIF), and Etihad Airways, which already owns a minority stake in Jet.

Etihad did not respond to a request for comment outside usual business hours.

The crisis at Jet, long the biggest operator in Mumbai, has opened a window of opportunity for other airlines to fill a gap in supply. Budget carriers SpiceJet Ltd and IndiGo are already rushing to add planes.

SpiceJet shares surged 15 percent to the highest since February 2018 early on Thursday, while shares in IndiGo’s parent InterGlobe Aviation Ltd rose by 3 percent.

India’s Ministry of Aviation said on Wednesday evening that meetings with airports and airlines would be held on Thursday.

“We are assisting airlines and airports to bring in capacity rapidly to ensure that fares remain stable and competitive,” the ministry said on its Twitter account. (Reporting by Tanvi Mehta, additional reporting by Nivedita Bhattacharjee; additional reporting and writing by Jamie Freed; Editing by Himani Sarkar)

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