World News

Wizz Air top shareholder to sell shares worth 500 million pounds

(Reuters) – Wizz Air’s <WIZZ.L> largest shareholder private equity firm Indigo Partners plans to sell shares worth 500 million pounds ($650 million) via an accelerated bookbuilding process, the bookrunner on the sale said on Monday.

The Indigo shareholders own 20.6% of Wizz Air, which is worth about 624 million pounds based on Monday’s closing share price. Veteran low-cost airline investor Bill Franke is Indigo’s managing partner and founder and is chairman of Wizz Air.

The shares will be offered to institutional investors.

The share sale comes just days after the European low-cost airline upgraded its annual profit forecast after a strong third quarter performance when it carried more passengers.

European short-haul airlines have benefited from strong travel demand in recent months, with Europe’s biggest budget airline Ryanair <RYA.I> and second biggest easyJet <EZJ.L> both upgrading their outlooks in January.

The sale of Indigo shares could also help Wizz Air’s compliance with European Union shareholder rules following Britain’s exit from the EU.

Airlines must be more than 50% owned by European Economic Area nationals to operate flights within the bloc, otherwise the rights of non-EEA shareholders have to be restricted to allow operations to continue.

Last year, Wizz Air chief executive Jozsef Varadi told Reuters the airline had “some work to do” on this issue, as it was not close to being 50% owned by EU nationals outside of Britain.

Bookrunner on the sale JP Morgan said given that Indigo’s shares were not held by EEA nationals under EU rules, the share sale would “at a minimum, maintain Wizz’s current level of EEA qualifying ownership, but more likely increase qualifying national ownership”.

Wizz Air said it would review shareholder restrictions it had put in place in the days following the placing.

The number of ordinary shares the Indigo shareholders will hold after the placing will be announced following completion of the bookbuilding process.

(Reporting by Noor Zainab Hussain in Bengaluru and Alistair Smout in London; Editing by David Goodman and Jane Merriman)