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Virgin Atlantic abandons plan for Government bailout, has five weeks to find a buyer (Telegraph)

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The Sunday Telegraph reports that Sir Richard Branson has abandoned plans for a Government bailout of Virgin Atlantic and is now desperately seeking a trade buyer.

The airline will be put into administration at the end of May if this cannot be achieved.  Accountancy firm EY is reportedly already lined up to act as administrator.

The airline is reported to have hired investment bank Houlihan Lokey, which specialises in distressed debt situations, to approach potential investors.  50 parties are believed to have asked for financial information.

Interestingly, none appear to be trade buyers.  Names quoted included hedge fund Lansdowne Partners, Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund, US private equity group Centerbridge Partners and distressed debt investor Cerberus.

(EDIT: Lansdowne Partners later issued a statement denying that it is in active discussions to invest in the airline.)

Potential bidders are expected to form consortia to submit bids.  It is important to remember that a 51% shareholding must remain with UK or European Union entities under EU aviation law.  Only Lansdowne Partners, of the names listed above, has a qualifying domicile.

Delta Air Lines, currently a 49% shareholder, has already said that it will not commit further funds to the airline as it deals with its own financial crisis.  Delta is keener to take money out of Virgin Atlantic, with the airline currently owed $200m which was due as a transition payment to reflect the addition of Air France and KLM into the Delta / Virgin transatlantic joint venture.

Delta’s CEO Ed Bastian is quoted as telling MSNBC that it supported administration, believing that there would be bidders for the assets.  Any solution is likely to see Delta’s shareholding wiped out, but this is unlikely to be a major problem as the real value for the airline is in the joint venture agreement.  Virgin Group may be reduced to a minority stake unless there is an issue over hitting the 51% EU quota.

Is this really the last throw of the dice?

Not necessarily.

It is possible that the airline will return to the Government with a request for aid before putting the airline into administration.  As we covered, the original bail-out request was rejected because the airline was not believed to have exhausted all other potential options.  This new process may be a way of proving to the Government that no other alternative is possible.

The Sunday Telegraph article is here.

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Comments (352)

  • Brian says:

    Like a lot of business directors once the money stops comming in to their pockets. They take the bonuses and cut and run without a care for their staff and customers.

  • Chris H says:

    I have decided that reading the comments on this page is like watching the news. When I watch the news I have to watch it for hours just to see ONE thing I have not seen before. They go over the same ground again and again, and when they get fed up with that someone comments on the things we have been told over and over again. And all they have to say is “We do not known yet”.
    With Virgin “we do not known yet”.
    As for the continuing hate mail over Branson, he is only doing what 90% plus of all the other companies and millionaires are doing who are able to do it, and only doing it because the tax laws allow it. Instead of bombasting him in these pages, lobby the government to change the laws to prevent it.
    For those of you who run your own businesses, please be honest now, do you take every opportunity to reduce your tax burden? Or are you generous enough to say “No, I will pay as much as I can because I am a nice guy” ???? Yes, the owners should do as much as they can to protect their own businesses. The rich are in a better position than the poor. But Branson is not in the minority here. Just look at the footballers. How many of them are using their own wealth to secure the future of the groundsmen etc that maintain their clubs?? Some have taken pay cuts, some are supporting charities, but if they are not playing, why are they being paid more than the furlough maximum? The staff aren’t.
    I have now added to the drivel from so many people, and probably repeated some stuff too. I apologise to you all for doing this. I love reading these pages, and getting good advice. I just wish it was easier to trawl through everything to find it!

    • James says:

      + 1 many, many times over 🙂

    • Johnny Tabasco says:

      Agree with all that bar the pop at footballers who are a very easy and convenient target.

      But yes there really are at lot of people posting on here who really think they know what they are talking about and jumping to some pretty hefty conclusions without anywhere near the full picture.

      Not as many who keep asking Rob the same questions though!

    • Ken says:

      It’s simply delusional to say that small and medium business have remotely the same access to tax avoidance as Branson .
      Non- residency, manipulation of royalty payments , transfer pricing and debt payments simply don’t exist.

      And some people do pay more than you’d expect. Denise Coates of B365 took £220m as a salary rather than a dividend in 2018

      • J says:

        Not the best example given the devastation and enormous social costs caused by the gambling industry.

        • james says:

          +1 Bet365 should be dissolved imho gambling is a bigger disease than covid-19 and only causes grief

      • Chris H says:

        I was not trying to say or even imply that small businesses have the same access to tax avoidance. I was trying to say that if the system allows it, then we should not criminalise them for doing it. Human nature, let alone business sense, says keep it where we can, rather than give it to the government to spend. In small or large ways, most if not all businesses do it. I claim for everything I can too. If it is wrong, then the government is responsible for allowing it.

      • Rob says:

        Yes they do. Contractors were milking it for years, as were small businesses who exploited the dividends vs income tax trade off. In my banking days good old HSBC was happy for us to sign up for every tax avoidance scheme under the sun and was happy to pick up the NI tab if they went wrong.

        I could do it myself – register HFP in a country with no corporation tax, leave the money outside the UK and live off savings, and then either use the cash for property abroad or leave the UK for 5 years later in life and repatriate it all tax free. Any small business can move their IP into an overseas subsidiary and licence it back – the cost is peanuts.

        • Lady London says:

          I had a huge laugh this week when the head of IAPSE (association of the self-employed and small Ltd company directors) was trying to tell the government their members only pay themselves a very small proportion of their salary through PAYE, and the rest as dividends, to maintain “agility” and it had nothing to do with reducing NI and PAYE tax costs.

          Thus is because having paid themselves very little is PAYE, apparently these people think the government should allow them to receive the amount they received as dividends our if their companies, as part of furlough support.

          Even as a sole Director of a Ltd myself I choked on my tea when I heard this guy’s brass neck. You PAYEs your money and you take your choice so far as furlough is concerned – only PAYE and reported self-employment income should be eligible.

    • luckyjim says:

      I think you mean ‘lambasting him’ rather than ‘bombasting him’.

      • mr_jetlag says:

        Lambast the plastic, bombastic Branson – fantastic.

        And 10000 internet points Chris H. I am feeling definite Groundhog day vibes on every Virgin post except instead of waking up every day trying to shag Andie McDowell it’s the same argument on VS bailouts and whether one should move their miles from VS.

    • Chrisasaurus says:

      So answer this: to a man with a (paper) net worth of >4Bn tell me whether his rampant tax avoidance has as much benefit to him as it does to the treasury.

      If I as small business owner run a company car I dont really need because the BIK contribution is lower than the cost of leasing or depreciating a car personally then I wonder up saving myself a tiny percentage of my monthly salary so I have enough extra cash for a weekend away every couple of months (figures are approximate, your weekends may vary)

      When Beardy does it hes taking literally millions out of the public purse and for what? He needs that.extra money you think? You think it has a significant impact on his disposable income, means the difference between going away or not a couple of extra times a year?

      Or is it pure selfish greed, hoarding money he doesnt need and cannot possibly spend?

      Just because the tax system allows it (and nobody doubts that it does and only a few think it shouldn’t be fixed) doesn’t make it morally reprehensible.

    • Anna says:

      Lambasting, not bombasting (I don’t think that’s even a word!) This thread might have reached it’s natural end but my determination to root out bad spelling and grammar never will.

  • mr_jetlag says:

    Public Service Announcement:

    VS [may] / [may not] go bust [this year] / [this month] / [next Tuesday].
    Moving your miles from VS is [a bad idea] / [a good idea] / [an idea you probably should have had last month, as it’s too late to do anything].
    The government definitely [should] / [shouldn’t] bail out Virgin Atlantic because [insert well reasoned argument others have made before on previous articles] / [I’m secretly afraid of losing my miles balance]

    Sorry, it’s been a long day trying to look interested on Zoom…

  • Novice says:

    Can’t believe ppl are still arguing about this 😂

  • ChrisC says:

    I see there are still “tax-dodger” posts

    VS as a company pays all the taxes it is due to pay under UK law so corporation tax, VAT, employers NIC, business rates etc etc etc

    What tax Branson pays on any dividends or royalty payments he may get from VS is a totally different matter.

    • Johnny Tabasco says:

      Well let’s just sweep that under the carpet where it belongs…

    • Josh says:

      They are likely the same people harking on about “suing the NHS” and who would love to have “free nationalised broadband”.

    • MJ says:

      Let’s go through those taxes.

      Corp Tax – Unlikely to be paying much over the past 10 years given lack of profitability
      VAT & APD – If people didn’t fly with VS, they’d likely fly with another airline, so its the spending driving that not VS
      NIC – If there was really that much demand for the flights VS runs, another airline would pick up the slack and hire more people (maybe not as many sure, but hardly a big contribution)
      Business Rates – Yeah I accept this.

      I very much doubt VS contributes enough to the UK economy by way of taxes/employment/competition for BA that it merits a £500m loan which may not be paid back if the business collapses and also may not even make a dent in what they need given this lockdown may last longer and air travel demand may be affected for quite some time.

      • TGLoyalty says:

        If people don’t fly X they are likely to fly Y is an interesting argument.

        Less competition = higher prices could = less people using the services. Perhaps people would use BA AA United KLM AF etc etc or perhaps they would go somewhere else instead of the USA.

        If they used anyone except BA that’s likely to mean less people in uk employed directly and indirectly which means less NI, less Income tax And less VAT as there is a lower GDP.

        • MJ says:

          Considering VS transport only only ~5 million people I don’t really think prices would increase that much. NYC for example is served by a few airlines, admittedly some being in partnership. Maybe to places such as Cape Town where BA is the only alternative but a large amount of VS’s destinations are tourism spots, or covered at least by BA and the national carrier of that country.

          Also just searched and found air travel is 0 rated for VAT so no direct impact

          Perhaps we would lose out on NI, Income Tax, perhaps not, that’s speculation based on whether people would fly if prices did indeed increase and then if they would use BA or a foreign airline.
          If people end up not flying then the money they’d have spent on flights may just be used to buy other things such as physical goods, helping other businesses.

          Hard to tell what would happen I guess, but I just don’t think the UK gov should bail out a company owned by a tax dodger who likely uses every trick in the book to pay as little taxes as he can personally and from the companies he owns and then has the cheek to ask his employees to take unpaid leave.

    • James says:

      It isn’t really another matter. VS has rarely made a profit but has happily been paying royalties every year, so whereas there has been little corporation tax paid, there might have been substantial taxes that would have been payable on the royalties, had the beneficiary of those royalties not chosen to structure affairs in a way that starves HMT of those taxes. When the company shows even less prospect of making a profit, given reduced demand, it’s really only the royalties that are being protected and it’s no surprise that Beardy wants to protect those. It’s not for HMT to bail him out. VS was barely viable in good years.

      • TGLoyalty says:

        The royalty is paid to VHG which is a UK ltd company.

        • MJ says:

          Are you sure the royalties are paid to VHG and not the holding company the whole of the Virgin Group come under (which is based in BVI)? Actually interested to see.

  • luckyjim says:

    *its

  • doug terry says:

    I feel sorry for VA’s 10,000 staff and probable another 5,000 who support VA cleaners baggage handlers and outside catering firms.