Japan Airlines fate teeters on bankruptcy-liquidation seesaw

TOKYO: Shares in Japan Airlines plunged to a record low yesterday amid rumours that Asia’s biggest carrier could file for bankruptcy in an attempt to turn around its failing business.

Transport minister Seiji Maehara and other cabinet ministers were holding crisis talks to discuss JAL’s options ahead of an official decision on the airline’s future in late January.

Maehara told reporters no decision had been made on whether JAL should be exposed to court-led bankruptcy, and promised state backing for its restructuring efforts, possibly though bridge loans.

JAL shares closed down 24 per cent at Y67, having plunged 32 per cent at one stage, with investors

taking flight amid media reports that liquidation was now under serious consideration.

Liquidation could leave JAL shareholders, whose shares were each worth Y213 at the start of the year, with zero.

Media reports quoted an official as saying bankruptcy is the “strongest possibility” being considered by the Enterprise Turnaround Initiative Corporation (ETIC), a government-backed body formed in October to decide the airline’s fate.

The ETIC has up to Y1.6 trillion in state-guaranteed funding at its disposal and, according to reports, is still considering a private restructuring plan that would not involve the courts.

But bankruptcy became a realistic option last week after the finance minister, Hirohisa Fujii, said the government would no longer guarantee loans to JAL. Until now, banks have lent to the airline on the understanding the loans are guaranteed by the state.

Fujii’s surprise announcement was a major blow to JAL, the beneficiary of four bailouts since 2001, as the government had been expected to provide up to Y100bn in credit through the Development Bank of Japan (DBJ).

JAL’s three biggest creditors, Mitsubishi UFJ, Mizuho and Sumitomo Mitsubishi, rejected liquidation during fractious talks with Maehara on Tuesday. It would saddle them with huge losses on their investments and risk grounding JAL’s fleet.