* In talks with Indian investor for equity- official
* Uncertainty about fund infusion remains
* No public bailout for Kingfisher - minister
* Shares end 3.8 pct lower; down 64 pct in 2011
(Recasts, updates with Mallya comment in paragraph 13)
By Aniruddha Basu and Swati Pandey
MUMBAI, Nov 18 Shares in India's
beleaguered Kingfisher Airlines fell as much as 18
percent on Friday, even as it was in talks with a potential
investor and met with lenders in a scramble to shore up its
The airline's chairman told the Financial Times that the
carrier was close to securing a $250 million equity injection.
An official at the UB Group, which controls Kingfisher, told
Reuters that the airline was talking to an Indian investor for
equity funding but declined to give details or be identified.
India's No.2 carrier, which has never turned a profit, saw
its losses double in the September quarter on high fuel costs
and fierce price competition. It has cancelled scores of flights
in recent weeks, leading investors to fret about its future.
"There is a shortage of cash. They are not being able to
price tickets properly because of increased competition. All
airlines are suffering, it's not just this one," said S.
Vishvanathan, CEO of SBI Caps.
State Bank of India, one of the carrier's lenders,
has hired its SBI Caps unit to study the viability of
Kingfisher's business model and advise banks.
Kingfisher Chairman Vijay Mallya, a flamboyant liquor baron
who named the airline after his popular beer, was seen leaving
State Bank of India's headquarters in south Mumbai on Friday
afternoon in a white Rolls Royce.
He did not speak to reporters and a Kingfisher spokesman
declined to comment on the meeting.
Kingfisher hopes to launch a rights issue as well as an
issue of global depositary receipts (GDRs), but tapping public
investors would be difficult amid current market conditions.
Kingfisher also wants the government to drop a ban on
foreign carriers from owning stakes in Indian airlines, a move
New Delhi is contemplating that would clear the way for an
overseas operator to take a stake in the carrier.
"In this kind of scenario short term players may not invest.
It's only long-term players who may invest for strategic
reasons," Vishvanathan told Reuters.
"Capital markets on the whole in India are closed. That is
not in the question. Even for good companies it is increasingly
getting difficult so any activity in airlines will take time,"
The Financial Times reported that Mallya said he was close
to sealing a $250 million equity injection from a wealthy Indian
to recapitalise the carrier, and was also near a deal for a
short-term loan of 6 billion rupees ($117 million) from banks.
Mallya said in a message on the social media site Twitter
that the FT report had been "factually wrong" but he later
tweeted that those errors had been corrected.
The chairman of SBI, Pratip Chaudhuri, declined comment.
Investors, including banks who hold about 24 percent in the
airline, have been increasingly worried over Kingfisher's health
after it sought further cushion to ease its debt burden of $1.3
Kingfisher has asked banks for 7-8 billion rupees additional
working capital, as well as 1.5 billion of term loans to fund
fleet reconfiguration as it ends its budget offering, Ravi
Nedungadi, chief financial officer of UB Group, said earlier
Shares in Kingfisher, which has been asked by creditors to
raise $160 million in equity, recouped some of their losses on
Friday to close down 3.8 percent. The stock hit an all-time low
last week and is down 64 percent in 2011, shrinking its market
value to $245 million.
"The fresh infusion of capital in Kingfisher is still
uncertain," said K.K. Mital, chief executive for portfolio
management services at Globe Capital.
"There is nothing concrete coming from the company, except
that flights still continue to be cancelled, and the market is
reacting to that uncertainty," he said.
India's civil aviation minister ruled out a public bailout
for Kingfisher or any other airline, urging private carriers to
put their own house in order..
The Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation (CAPA) has forecast a
record $2.5 billion to $3 billion loss for Indian airlines for
the year ending March 2012, with state-run Air India alone
likely to account for more than half of it.
Kingfisher cut its debt through a restructuring earlier this
year by issuing shares to 14 banks, including State Bank of
India and ICICI Bank. It recently recast its
business model, doing away with its low-cost service Kingfisher
($1 = 51 rupees)
(Additional reporting by Prashant Mehra in MUMBAI and Michelle
Martin in LONDON; Editing by Tony Munroe and Aradhana Aravindan)