Losses at India's Kingfisher triple, shares plunge

Salil Panchal
Kingfisher airlines planes are seen parked on the tarmac at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi on May 11, 2012. Kingfisher Airlines said Thursday its net losses more than tripled in the fourth quarter from a year earlier, hit by high fuel prices and curtailed operations

India's cash-strapped Kingfisher Airlines posted its deepest-ever quarterly loss on Thursday, hit by rising fuel costs and curtailed operations, sending its shares tumbling to a record low.

The company posted a net loss of 11.52 billion rupees ($21 million) in the three months to March -- a tripling of losses -- compared with a 3.56 billion rupees loss a year earlier.

Sales fell about 55 percent to 7.41 billion rupees for the airline, which owes millions of dollars in taxes as well as to suppliers, lenders, partners and staff.

Its shares subsequently slid as much as 7.7 percent intraday to a lifetime low of 10.2 rupees at the Bombay Stock Exchange.

Kingfisher has scaled down its operations dramatically in recent months -- stopping international operations completely -- and now has the smallest market share among Indian airlines at just 5.4 percent.

"Kingfisher is continuing with its 'holding plan' of a limited fleet... to contain losses in this tough and unprecedented operating environment for the Indian aviation industry," it said in a statement.

"The company hopes to be back to full-scale operations in the next 12 months," it added.

The carrier, controlled by liquor baron Vijay Mallya, has never turned a profit since its launch in 2005.

Mallya, known as the "King of Good Times" for his flamboyant lifestyle, has been lobbying hard in support of proposals to allow foreign carriers to buy stakes in Indian airlines.

Foreign direct investment in aviation is seen as a lifeline to companies such as Kingfisher, which analysts believe needs up to $600 million to survive.

The government is yet to clear the proposal.

Foreign airlines are currently barred from holding stakes in Indian airlines though other overseas investors can hold up to 49 percent.

A quarter of Kingfisher is owned by local banks and some have refused to lend the company more cash unless fresh capital is raised and a viable restructuring plan is presented.

"There is no scope for improvement until sufficient funds are brought into the airline," an aviation analyst with a Mumbai research firm said, declining to be named.

India's airline industry -- once a symbol of the country's economic progress -- is now plagued by high fuel prices, fierce competition, price wars and inadequate airport infrastructure.

The state-run flagship carrier Air India is also in trouble after curtailing some of its operations due to an ongoing three-week strike by some of its pilots over unresolved staff issues.

All of India's airlines are making losses, barring low-cost IndiGo.