Japan Airlines sets price range for up to $8.4 billion IPO

TOKYO Thu Aug 30, 2012 2:37am EDT

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan Airlines said on Thursday it would raise up to 663 billion yen ($8.4 billion) in its initial public offering after setting the indicative price range for what will rank as the world's second-largest IPO this year after Facebook Inc (FB.O).

The airline, which is scheduled to relist its shares on the Tokyo Stock Exchange on September 19, said the price would be set between 3,500 yen and 3,790 yen after sounding out investors during a one-week book-building process that starts on Friday.

The top end of the range is equal to the preliminary reference price of 3,790 yen disclosed when Japan Airlines officially announced on August 3 that it would relist its stock, a move that underscores its strong recovery less than three years after it tumbled into bankruptcy with $25 billion in debt.

The listing will allow a state-backed fund to exit its investment in the former national flag carrier with a tidy profit. The fund, the Enterprise Turnaround Initiative Corporation of Japan (ETIC), owns 96.5 percent of JAL after injecting 350 billion yen worth of taxpayer funds in 2010 to keep the airline operating while it restructured.

For the business year ended in March, JAL booked a 205 billion yen operating profit, placing it at the top of the notoriously volatile industry. JAL is forecasting profit will drop to 150 billion yen in the current year.

The strong rebound in profitability followed a massive restructuring that eliminated a third of its workforce, scrapped unprofitable routes, slashed pensions and retired ageing and fuel-guzzling jumbo jets.

The airline also benefits from a lower interest burden stemming from debt waivers, smaller depreciation costs following a write-down of its fleet, and a $4.5 billion tax credit that it can use to offset corporate tax for the remainder of the decade.

Those favorable provisions have sparked criticism from domestic rival All Nippon Airways (9202.T), which has been lobbying for measures such as preferential allocation of landing slots to level what it claims is an unfair playing field.

At the top end of the range, JAL would trade at a price-to-earnings ratio of 5.3, based on its profit forecast for the current business year. That is cheaper than the industry average of nearly 16, according to Thomson Reuters data.

($1 = 78.7400 Japanese yen)

(Reporting by Nathan Layne; Editing by Chang-Ran Kim and Edmund Klamann)

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