Expectations of new bids for Transat A.T. Inc. drove the Montreal-based airline and tour operator’s share price up by more than 11 per cent to a five-year high on Wednesday.
Transat is in exclusive talks with Air Canada for a takeover worth $520-million or $13 a share, but investors signalled they expect a richer offer, pushing Transat’s share price to $13.24 on the Toronto Stock Exchange.
Dominik Pigeon of FNC Capital, a Montreal financial-services company specializing in management-led buyouts, said he has had talks with the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec and Fonds de solidarité FTQ, two large Transat shareholders, and with Transat executives about making a bid.
He said he is putting together a bidding group and a business plan, and the Quebec-based investment funds are “considering” joining his group but “they are not committed yet.”
“We love the company. We love the opportunity we have. We’re keen on working with the board” to have them “consider our offer, eventually,” he said. Spokesmen for FTQ and the Caisse declined to comment.
Mr. Pigeon made his comments in a phone interview with The Globe and Mail on Wednesday, a day after Group Mach, a Quebec real estate developer, unveiled an offer to buy Transat for $14 a share.
Mach’s bid came with several conditions, including that it receive $120-million in financing from the Quebec government, that Transat end talks with Air Canada and that it win the support of the Caisse and FTQ. Mach said it will bring in a Spanish vacation property developer, TM Grupo Inmobiliaro, as a 25-per-cent owner.
Chris Murray, a stock analyst at AltaCorp Capital Inc., said in a research note on Wednesday that Mach’s financing condition and lack of aviation expertise makes its offer “low quality.” However, the Mach bid and the possibility of others will likely mean Transat sells for more than the $13 offered by Air Canada, Mr. Murray said.
Air Canada’s offer has no financing conditions, and the agreement gives the airline the right to match any unsolicited offer Transat receives during the exclusivity period. Air Canada and Transat said separately on Tuesday their exclusive talks are expected to conclude near the end of June. Any deal must be approved by two-thirds of Transat shareholders, and Canada’s competition and aviation regulators.
Transat has a fleet of about 40 passenger jets, and a vacation package and tour business that serves 26 countries in the Americas, Europe and the Middle East. Vincent Chiara, Mach’s chief executive officer, said he plans to stick with the company’s business plan, retaining jobs and the Montreal headquarters. He said on Tuesday the Spanish partner TM is an experienced builder and operator of holiday resorts, and will help drive Transat’s development of a hotel in Puerto Morelos, Mexico, on beach-front property it bought for about US$56-million in late 2018.
A condition of the Air Canada negotiations is that Transat limit expenses on the project, a sign Air Canada is less interested in the resort business. Analysts say Canada’s biggest airline would benefit from access to Transat’s updated fleet of Airbus Neos, a new fuel-efficient passenger jet unencumbered by the safety concerns and bad press of the grounded Boeing 737 Max. The Max has been in two recent crashes that killed 346 people.
The apparently different visions for Transat raise the prospect that Transat could be broken up, Mr. Murray said.
“With limited aviation experience, we see the [Mach] bid as having challenges in its execution,” he said. “We do see however some potential for a break up of Transat with the vacations and aviation components of the business sold to Air Canada and the hotel assets sold to separate bidders, which could include Group Mach or other parties.”
Mr. Pigeon of FNC Capital said there is great value in the airline and tour business but does not see the Mexican hotel as part of the business over the longer term should his group win the bidding.