AT a time when most investors would “fold” or “check” when it comes to investing in the aviation industry in the current economic climate, professional poker player and investor Dr Stanley Choi has made a bold “call”.
The high roller went in big on AirAsia Group Bhd last month when he acquired a further 167.1 million shares in a private placement via his wholly-owned private vehicle Positive Boom Ltd, raising his stake from less than 5% to 8.96%.
At 67.5 sen a piece, Choi’s increased stake in AirAsia cost him RM112.79mil.
While it is obvious that aviation-related counters are among those favoured for Covid-19 recovery plays, how Choi raised his bets in AirAsia turned heads in the investment fraternity, especially the retailers.
Just eight months ago, the group’s auditors Ernst & Young raised significant doubts on the group’s ability to continue as a going concern.
Adding to that, the International Air Transport Association’s (IATA) recently said the airline industry is projected to remain cash negative this year and is not expected to be cash positive until 2022.
For what it is worth, Choi’s increased shareholding drove much confidence back to AirAsia, which saw its share price jumping more than 40% since Feb 22, the day the airline made the public announcement on Bursa Malaysia.
Based on the counter’s closing price of RM1.19 yesterday, his profit on paper is already 76.3%.
“The theories and philosophy of poker are very closely related to investment. No one has a crystal ball and you only get pieces of information based on what is currently out there.
“In investing, the initial stages are similar to pre-flop plays where you gather information about your opponent, their personality and the way they play before you decide to call or not.“For my investment in AirAsia, I analysed all the factors, the issues, operations, management issues, sectoral issues and I have all the information I needed. And it is obvious my decision is a call, ” he tells StarBizWeek in a virtual interview via Zoom.
Choi, who is the chairman of Head & Shoulders Financial Group and the chairman and executive director of International Entertainment Corporation (IEC), a company listed on the main board of Hong Kong Stock Exchange, believes the aviation sector has bottomed out in terms of stock prices since July last year, which he views as a one-of-a-kind opportunity for entry.
In an economic environment where all airlines are suffering the same challenge of closed borders due to the pandemic, he is confident that AirAsia will be the one that emerges stronger.
Though he has yet to meet the airlines founders Tan Sri Tony Fernandes (pic below) and Datuk Kamarudin Meranun, who are the chief executive officer and the chairman respectively, Choi says he is impressed with their leadership and foresight.
“They started the business with two planes and RM40mil debt in 2001 and today they have more than 200 planes and 20,000 employees. This is a legend in aviation history and a story that will always be remembered.
“I believe Tony and Din will be able to lead the group to overcome this hard time, ” Choi says.
He also bought into Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd last year in what he described as an insignificant portion of his portfolio and Boeing shares 25 years ago.
As far as the proportion is concerned, Choi, who began buying stocks at the age of 17, says it is nothing compared to his position in AirAsia.
“We look into industries that are severely damaged and hurt, or where there is a bomb, probably that’s the better place to go in terms of investment, because the value is there, ” he says, stressing that timing is a critical factor.
On his upcoming ventures or plans, Choi says he will focus on his investments, with more attention particularly in blockchain-related companies, of which he strongly believes is the future of business.
Six years ago, he funded a fintech blockchain company known as Chilliz as an angel investor.
The firm is behind the cryptocurrency CHZ, which is now worth around US$0.67 each, brining its market capitalisation to US$3.96bil as at press time.
CHZ powers Socios.com, the firm’s hub for fans to buy tokenised voting rights in their favourite teams.
Juventus for example, allowed token holders to choose the celebration song that would be played whenever they scored.
Among renowned football clubs on the platform are Barcelona, AC Milan and even top eSport teams such as OG, Natus Vincere (Na’Vi) and Team Alliance.
Speaking on a more personal level, Choi says all his experience and achievements in investing and poker came from making mistakes. “Without making mistakes, without paying a price, you won’t be able to grow, you won’t be able to make better decisions next time.
“Embrace your mistakes but always stay positive. Negative people will never have a positive life, ” Choi remarks, adding that even during bad times, one can play their hands wisely and make the right investment decisions.
In 2018, Choi’s IEC purchased English football club Wigan Athletic for £22mil, sold it in May last year when things did not turn out as expected. The new owner put the club into administration in July.
“After over 30 years of investing experience, I have encountered many unlucky situations and many lucky hands as well. Live with your mistakes, because that’s a good journey and experience. Don’t feel guilty and live a life of regrets.
“It’s not just about making money, but also the sense of satisfaction when you play a good hand in poker or make a good position in your investment, like how I feel very good about my investment in AirAsia this time, ” he says.
AirAsia has just concluded its private share placement exercise with the completion of a second tranche, where another 100.36 million new shares have been issued at 86.5 sen each.
This is approximately 3% of its total issued shares.
This follows the initial tranche of 11.07% or 369.85 million shares issued on Feb 19 that saw the emergence of Choi as a substantial shareholder.
In total, both tranches delivered 470.21 million new shares issued under the private placement exercise, representing 14.07% of AirAsia’s total issued shares, raising RM336.46mil in total.
Among other key investors include TPG Capital founder and chairman David Bonderman, together with several TGP partners investing in their personal capacity; Canada-based investment advisory firm Aimia Inc and other local and foreign institutional funds.