Exclusive - AirAsia targets US$300mil raise via US listing of digital business


KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Malaysia's low-cost airline AirAsia Group Bhd is considering a listing of its digital arm via a special-purpose acquisition company (SPAC) in the United States to raise at least US$300 million, its chief said on Wednesday.

Group Chief Executive Tony Fernandes told Reuters in a virtual interview that a few SPACs focused on technology have approached the group, and AirAsia has engaged auditors for a deal to list the unit, which comprises a travel and lifestyle services platform, logistics and fintech businesses.

"We have now recruited our auditors to start preparing for an American listing so that's very much on the table," he said, adding that Rothschild is working on the listing that could happen in five months.

The group is also in discussions with other suitors, including Malaysian and Indonesian private equity, Fernandes added.

Mergers and acquisition activity and SPAC deals have surged in Asia, with Southeast Asia's largest ride-hailing and food delivery firm Grab heading for a U.S. listing via a hefty US$40 billion merger with a SPAC.

Fernandes, wearing a bright red cap with the words "Make AirAsia Fly Again", also said that talks with an US company over a loan of US$1 billion for the digital business is also near conclusion, with a term sheet already prepared.

AirAsia had earlier announced that it will buy Indonesian ride-hailing and payments firm Gojek's Thailand business in a stock swap, giving Gojek a 4.76% stake worth US$50 million in the airline's lifestyle platform.

The deal values the AirAsia SuperApp division at around US$1 billion, more than the pandemic-hit airline's current market value of US$868 million at a time when it has been looking to raise more capital.

AirAsia has been looking since last year to raise up to RM2.5bil to weather the slump in global travel.

Fernandes said the group could announce updates on its financing as soon as next week, and that a government-guaranteed loan was also being processed.

Separately at another virtual briefing, AirAsia said Thai AirAsia will list on the local stock exchange in about three to four months.

(Reporting by Liz Lee in Kuala Lumpur and additional reporting by Chayut Setboonsarng in Bangkok; Editing by Martin Petty and Louise Heavens)

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