August 29, 2017 / 7:12 AM / 3 months ago

UPDATE 2-AirAsia to consolidate regional units as expansion plans take off

* Q2 net profit down on one-off charge, revenue at record high

* AirAsia’s new holding company to assume listing status

* Restructuring to help AirAsia unlock investment in affiliates

* AirAsia to expand fleet by more than 20 planes in second half (Recasts story on restructuring)

By Liz Lee and Anshuman Daga

KUALA LUMPUR/SINGAPORE, Aug 29 (Reuters) - AirAsia Bhd (AAB) plans to consolidate its various regional affiliates under one holding company, in contrast to a scattered structure now, as the airline takes off on a rapid expansion path in its core Southeast Asian markets.

The Malaysia-based carrier, currently the listed investment holding company and the operating firm for AirAsia’s Malaysian airline business, proposed a share exchange and transfer of listing with newly created AirAsia Group Bhd, or Newco.

Under the reorganisation, the investment holding function and the Malaysian airline business will be separated. Newco will become the investment holding vehicle and take on AAB’s listing.

AAB will retain the Malaysian airline business and become Newco’s wholly owned unit, the airline said on Tuesday, after earlier reporting record-high quarterly revenues and a plan to expand its fleet by over 20 percent in second half.

“This is a positive step forward as the current corporate structure is awkward. It makes sense to have one holding company that controls all the various airlines and related businesses,” said Corrine Png, CEO at research firm Crucial Perspective.

Co-founder and group CEO, Tony Fernandes, has grown AirAsia from a two-plane operation in 2002 into Asia’s biggest low-cost airline, with affiliates in Indonesia, Thailand, India, Japan and plans to set up ventures in China and Vietnam.

But Fernandes has cited regulatory caps on ownership and complexity surrounding his businesses for not getting the desired valuations from investors.

Following the internal reorganisation, Fernandes said he plans to further streamline the group structure to facilitate future spin-off of operations.

AirAsia is already discussing a sale of its leasing arm and expects to close this before the year-end. Reuters has reported AirAsia was in talks with a South Korean group.

Separately, AirAsia has agreed to partially sell and convert perpetual securities investments in Pt Indonesia AirAsia into new shares in a Pt Rimau Multi Putra Pratama TBK, to support financing needs of its growth in Indonesia via capital markets ahead of a potential IPO.

AirAsia is battling competition from larger groups such as Singapore Airlines and Indonesia’s Lion Air.

For the second quarter ended June, AirAsia reported a 73 percent year-on-year drop in net profit to 92.45 million ringgit ($21.7 million), mainly due to a one-off deferred tax charge that offset the impact of higher passenger numbers and load factor. The profit was the smallest since the end of 2015.

However, revenue hit a record high of 2.38 billion ringgit.

AirAsia said it would add more than 20 planes in the second half of 2017, expanding its fleet that is at 106 now, in one of its fastest expansions in several as travel demand grows. ($1 = 4.2660 ringgit) (Reporting by Liz Lee in KUALA LUMPUR and Anshuman Daga in SINGAPORE; Additional reporting by Jamie Freed in SINGAPORE; Editing by Himani Sarkar)

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