Lufthansa shares down on bailout standoff with shareholder

FRANKFURT (Reuters) – Lufthansa (LHAG.DE) shares fell on Monday as the German government held last-ditch talks with the airline group’s biggest shareholder, who is threatening to block a 9 billion euro ($10 billion) bailout unless its terms are adjusted.

The stock was down 5.2% at 1101 GMT, as billionaire investor Heinz Hermann Thiele met senior government officials at the finance ministry, according to three people familiar with the matter. Lufthansa declined to comment.

The German airline has been hit hard by the coronavirus crisis and what promises to be a protracted travel slump, forcing it to seek a state rescue to avoid insolvency.

Thiele, who holds 15.5% of the group, objects to bailout terms that would see Germany acquire a 20% stake and board seats, diluting existing shareholders, and has instead proposed an indirect holding via the country’s KfW development bank.

Monday’s stock decline followed a weekend message in which Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr told employees less than 38% of shares had been registered to vote at a key shareholder meeting on Thursday, handing Thiele an effective veto on the bailout, which needs a two-thirds majority to pass.

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Lufthansa shares also exited Germany’s benchmark DAX index on Monday, a relegation announced early this month.

The group warned last week a no vote would force it to seek creditor protection to avoid insolvency. That could eventually lead to break-up pressures on the group, whose other carriers include Austrian Airlines, Brussels Airlines and Swiss.

As well as adding significant risk, “a protective umbrella procedure for Lufthansa would be a great embarrassment for Germany as an export nation,” Kepler Cheuvreux analyst Ruxandra Haradau-Doeser said.

The government has nonetheless refused so far to consider any changes to the complex bailout deal negotiated with Lufthansa management and the European Commission.

Finance Minister Olaf Scholz, who attended the talks with Thiele along with Economy Minister Peter Altmaier, said beforehand he expected the talks to produce a consensus behind the proposed deal.

“I think discussing about the proposal, which is what we do – just making clear what it is about – could organise the consensus,” Scholz told a financial conference by videolink ahead of the talks with Thiele.

“Lufthansa has been a very successful company before the crisis, so it’s our duty to make feasible that they (survive) the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.

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