Air India's arm raises Rs 7,000 cr from bond market to dilute debt burden

The bond was floated at 6.99%, around 86 bps higher than the three-year govt bond yield, to be followed by a Rs 15,000 crore bond issue in two weeks

Air India

A special purpose vehicle of state-owned Air India has raised Rs 7,000 crore from the bond market, in a major exercise to clean up the balance sheet before privatisation. 

The bond was floated by Air India Asset Holdings (AIAHL), which houses around Rs 26,500 crore of Air India’s Rs 60,000 crore debt and non-core assets like real estate. 

Among the top three subscribers were Trust Capital, ICICI Bank, and State Bank of India (SBI). While Trust Capital and ICICI each subscribed to Rs 2,000 crore each, SBI subscribed to Rs 1,100 crore.

The bond was floated at 6.99 per cent, around 86 basis points higher than the three-year government bond yield, which stood at 6.13 per cent and was subscribed nearly three times. 

“The bond received bids worth Rs 20,830 crore from 47 bidders which includes banks and mutual funds. It is the highest in the yield based bond market in the history of Bombay Stock Exchange. The company has decided to accept the entire issue of Rs 7,000 crore,” an Air India spokesperson said.

A senior Air India official said the bond issue was timed well because higher oil prices on Monday resulted in increase in bond yields in the Indian market. “Also it’s a Government of India- subscribed bond essentially meaning that the government is responsible for the coupon payment. This increased the confidence of the market,” the official said.

This issue will be followed by a second tranche of bond by AIAHL of Rs 15,000 crore, which will have a maturity period of 10 years. “Just like today we have to time the next issue so that it generates enough interest. We are in discussion with Employee Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO) and Life Insurance Corporation (LIC) for the same.  

Debts of Rs 29,464 crore will be transferred to AIASL, a special purpose vehicle (SPV) created to warehouse working capital loans, non-core assets like real estate and artifacts, and four subsidiaries.

A good response from the market is crucial for the company because the government has made its intention clear that it doesn’t want to be in the airline business and wishes to sell the carrier, which has accumulated losses of more than Rs 19,435 crore in the last three years.

It also has around 15 aircraft grounded due to lack of spares because it has been unable to pay vendors.

The company posted a loss of Rs 7,635 crore, the highest in its history, in FY19.

Bond traders have said with a sovereign guarantee for raising Rs 15,000 crore, bonds will find a good response in the market.

“Government-guaranteed bonds will find a favourable response from the EPFO and government-owned insurance funds because they are eager to play safe and government security provides an assurance. There is an appetite in the market, however, and it will depend on the coupon rate of the bonds,” a trader said. In 2012, the company had raised around Rs 7,400 crore, subscribed mainly by Life Insurance Corporation of India and the EPFO.