Qatar Air said to weigh raising stake in British Air owner

QATAR (BLOOMBERG) - Qatar Airways is considering further increasing its stake in British Airways owner IAG after the UK-based company lost a third of its market value in the fallout from the country's vote to leave the European Union, according to people familiar with the matter.

Qatar Airways, already IAG's largest shareholder, is exploring boosting its holding to about 20 per cent from 15 per cent, said the people, who asked not to be identified because deliberations are private. The Middle Eastern airline is monitoring market developments and shareholders' willingness to sell and hasn't made a final decision on the move, the people said.

Standard Life, the Scottish insurer and asset manager which is among the top-three shareholders, is also exploring increasing its stake in IAG to take advantage of the selloff, according to people familiar with the matter. The Edinburgh- based firm owns about 6 per cent, according to IAG's website.

Representatives for Qatar Airways, IAG and Standard Life declined to comment.

International Consolidated Airlines Group shares fell 3.1 pence to 354.1 pence in London trading at 1:57 p.m. after earlier gaining as much as 3.6 per cent. IAG shares have tumbled about 33 percent since the Brexit vote, valuing the company at about 7.45 billion pounds (S$13.5 billion).

The Middle Eastern carrier could buy between 2 per cent and 5 per cent on the market, one of the people said. A 5 per cent stake would be worth about 373 million pounds based on the current market value.

IAG lowered its 2016 profit target just hours after the UK's vote to leave the EU, saying the results threaten to extend a drop in demand that started in June in the run-up to the historic referendum. Aviation is particularly exposed because of the volatility of demand, which may erode earnings because airlines are forced to cut fares to lure passengers.  IAG Chief Executive Officer Willie Walsh said Tuesday he expects the impact to be short-lived and sees a boom in tourism spurred by a weaker pound offsetting a slump in business travel at British Airways.

Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker said earlier this month he's happy with the level of the company's stake, which is not a mere financial holding but a strategic investment that will aid cooperation in areas such as joint fleet purchases. The state- owned airline bought 9.99 per cent of IAG in January last year before building its position via a series of further purchases.

The Gulf carrier can't take a majority holding because of EU rules limiting foreign ownership to 49 per cent.