Michael O’Leary is nothing if not bloody-minded. Regulators have once again told Ryanair it has to sell its stake in Aer Lingus and, lo, the budget airline is appealing again.
The Competition and Markets Authority has issued a ‘final order’ requiring it to cut its stake in the Irish flag carrier from 29.8% to 5%. Ryanair duly hit back, calling the ruling ‘ridiculous’ and saying it plans to take the case to the Competition Appeal Tribunal.
O’Leary, the low-cost airline’s famously loud-mouthed chief exec, has wanted to get his mitts on Aer Lingus for, like, ever. But he has been thwarted thus far, firstly by the regulators, which got on the case when Ryanair bought its stake in 2012. Then IAG started wooing, persuading first the board (at the third time of asking) and then the Irish Government, which has a 25.1% stake, that it was the right spouse.
But Ryanair still won’t give up the fight, claiming its ‘human rights’ had been violated when the Court of Appeal turned it down in February. The UK’s Supreme Court is expected to decide whether to hear that, er, interesting claim in the next few weeks. So for now the battle is still open on two fronts.
The airline threw some serious shade at the CMA, once again proving why it’s business journos’ favourite headline-grabber. ‘When the only basis for the CMA’s original divestment ruling was that Ryanair’s minority shareholding was or would prevent other airlines making an offer for Aer Lingus, the recent offers by IAG for Aer Lingus totally disprove and undermine the bogus theories and invented evidence on which the CMA based its untenable divestment ruling,’ comms chief Robin Kiely veritably ranted.
Kiely conveniently forgot to mention that Ryanair still has the power to nix said offer – IAG has said the deal was contingent on the budget airline selling up. As CMA inquiry chairman Simon Polito put it, ‘This recent development illustrates that Ryanair can decide whether a bid for its major competitor on UK/Irish routes succeeds or fails.’
So far all O’Leary has said is that the company will ‘consider any offer from IAG on its merits, if or when it is received.’ Given the €2.55 a share offer is already on the table (shares are currently at €2.41, having risen almost 75% since news of IAG’s bids leaked out at the end of 2014), it doesn’t seem like he’s flinging open the door to Willie Walsh’s millions.
O’Leary almost certainly doesn’t like being proved wrong and will clearly fight this to the bitter end. In the unlikely event Ryanair’s appeals do succeed, he may well skewer the whole IAG bid. But for now it looks like the stake will be prised from his grip.