November 13, 2013 / 4:26 PM / 4 years ago

UPDATE 3-European airline Flybe's biggest shareholder bows out

3 Min Read

* Rosedale Aviation sells 48.1 pct stake in Flybe

* Flybe says free float expected to increase to 85 pct

* Shares fall as much as 16.7 pct (Adds buyers' details; updates share movement)

By Richa Naidu

Nov 13 (Reuters) - Flybe Group Plc said biggest shareholder Rosedale Aviation Holdings has sold its entire 48.1 percent stake in the Europe's largest regional airline to institutional investors.

Flybe shares fell as much as 16.7 percent, making the embattled carrier's stock one of the biggest percentage losers on the London Stock Exchange on Wednesday .

The company's free float is now expected to increase to 85 percent, Flybe said in a statement on Wednesday.

The stake was sold through Liberum Capital. At Tuesday's closing, Rosedale's stake was valued at about 38 million pounds ($60.52 million).

Aberforth Partners LLP said in a filing that it doubled its stake in Flybe and now has 10.82 percent voting rights in the company.

Polar Capital European Forager Fund Ltd said it now has 4.59 percent voting rights in Flybe.

Quantum Partners LP held 9.40 percent voting rights in the company, while Schroders Plc held 6.32 percent.

Chief Executive Saad Hammad indicated on Wednesday morning that some existing investors had increased their holding in Flybe as part of this transaction.

Flybe's second largest shareholder is British Airways owner International Consolidated Airlines Group, with a 15 percent stake as on June 14. Flybe's other shareholders include billionaire investor George Soros and recently departed chairman Jim French.

"Rosedale is effectively (Flybe's) founding shareholder. It has presumably been looking to diversify its investment over the long term and the IPO of Flybe was part of that process - the sale of the remaining stake yesterday completes that process," Liberum analyst Gerald Khoo told Reuters.

Rosedale Aviation, controlled by the family trust of the late Jack Walker, the steel magnate, owned as much as 69 percent of Flybe. That stake reduced to just under 50 percent when the carrier went public in December 2010.

Like many other European airlines, Flybe has responded to soaring fuel costs, higher airport charges and slower spending on air travel by shutting down unprofitable routes and limiting its spending.

The airline said on Monday it would cut 500 jobs in addition to the 590 positions it axed earlier in the year. The airline also said it would further reduce its routes, review its fleet mix, remove surplus capacity and improve aircraft and crew utilisation.

Carriers such as Lufthansa AG, Air France-KLM and Spain's Iberia have also cut thousands of jobs over the last year and reined in capacity growth.

Flybe's shares, which have gained about 103 percent since it started slashing jobs in January, were down about 11 percent at 92.4 pence at 1618 GMT. ($1 = 0.63 British pounds) (Reporting by Richa Naidu and Roshni Menon in Bangalore; Editing by Supriya Kurane and Joyjeet Das)

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