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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 24 March 2019

Air France-KLM shares plunge after Dutch government buys bigger stake

The Dutch government said it would buy a 13% stake for €680 million for an equal footing with France

The Dutch move may rekindle tensions following a rift that threatened the job of KLM chief executive Pieter Elbers. AFP
The Dutch move may rekindle tensions following a rift that threatened the job of KLM chief executive Pieter Elbers. AFP

Air France-KLM's shares plunged on Wednesday to a nine-month low after the Dutch government's unexpected decision to buy a stake in the airline amid concern that diverging national interests would weaken attempts to restructure the airline.

Shares fell as much as 9 per cent during the morning trading session after the Dutch finance minister said the Netherlands would buy a 13 per cent stake for €680 million (Dh2.5 billion), which it aims to raise to about 14 per cent. The move, which was not communicated to France, is targeted at getting an equal footing to counter the influential French government shareholder, which has a 14.3-per cent stake while the Dutch held a 5.9 per cent stake in KLM before the recent purchase.

"With this share purchase, the Dutch cabinet wants to be able to directly influence the future development of Air France-KLM in order to optimally ensure the Dutch public interest," Wopke Hoekstra, the Dutch finance minister said at The Hague. "The aim is to eventually get to a position equal to that of the French state."

Air France and the Dutch airline KLM merged in 2004. The Dutch move may rekindle tensions following a rift that threatened the job of KLM chief executive Pieter Elbers. He stayed in the position and Air France-KLM chief executive Ben Smith got a seat on KLM’s supervisory board and won a more streamlined power structure that sidelined some of the cumbersome committees, which slowed decision making but ensured the Dutch side had some parity.

The Netherlands’ group-level stake will put the state in a position to ask for board seats at the next general meeting. It won’t qualify for extra voting rights for some time.

The airline’s fate is tied to Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport, one of Europe’s busiest hubs and a major economic driver for the Netherlands.

“A financially sound Air France-KLM with an extensive hub network at Schiphol for the Netherlands is of great importance,” Mr Hoekstra said.

Air France-KLM reported last week a 150 per cent rise in annual profits to €409m.

Updated: February 27, 2019 02:59 PM

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