According to Bloomberg, VietJet Aviation Joint Stock Co. is in talks to become the first company in Vietnam to list its shares on a stock exchange overseas as the carrier, which controls more than 40 percent of the domestic airline market, seeks more funds after plans for billions of dollars in aircraft purchases.
“We’ve been approached by some foreign stock exchanges including London, Hong Kong and Singapore, which expressed their interest in our stock,” said Nguyen Thi Phuong Thao, VietJet’s founder and chief executive officer, during an interview in Hanoi.
The plan for the 41 trillion-dong ($1.8 billion) low-cost carrier comes amid the government’s easing of rules to allow more foreign investment in one of the fastest-growing aviation markets. Hanoi-based VietJet, known for a marketing stunt featuring bikini-clad service crew, received shareholder approval in April to boost its foreign ownership limit to 49 percent from 30 percent.
“Listing overseas on big markets will help increase our access to more fund sources, boost the trading of our stock and expand the list of our investors,” said Thao, a self-made billionaire. “We don’t want to hide our hope to become the first Vietnamese company to list shares overseas.”
While VietJet has done well in Vietnam, it faces tougher competition against entrenched players such as low-cost carrier AirAsia Bhd., as well as Cathay Pacific’s regional unit, Cathay Dragon, as it expands in Asia, said Tyler Cheung, director of institutional clients at ACB Securities Co. in Ho Chi Minh City.
“They have been able to accomplish something impressive in a relatively small period of time,” Cheung said. “The question is whether their business model and corporate strategy can transfer to a regional play.”
VietJet, which began operating six years ago, has 136 foreign investors who own 26 percent of the company, Thao, 46, said in April. She owns more than 60 percent of the airline directly and through holding companies and other entities, according to filings.
The increase in foreign ownership will need to be approved by Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc because aviation is considered a restricted industry, with the limit currently capped at 30 percent. The airline has filed paperwork requesting the increase, Thao said.
Raising the limit isn’t aimed at attracting a strategic investor, although the company is open to one, she said.
“We always wanted to be the pioneer,” Thao said. “We want to increase our stock value and to boost the ability to mobilize capital with more participation of investors.”
Thao made her first million dollars at age 21 selling fax machines and latex rubber. Almost a quarter of a century later, the executive became Southeast Asia’s first self-made woman billionaire with the listing of VietJet.
Thao engages in round-the-clock negotiations with plane and engine makers by herself, surviving on as little as three hours of sleep a night, said VietJet Managing Director Luu Duc Khanh. In May last year, she sealed an $11.3 billion deal with Boeing Co. to buy 100 737 Max 200 aircraft just in time to have it announced during then-President Barack Obama’s visit to Vietnam.
The carrier agreed to buy 30 A320neos valued at $3.6 billion at list price in 2015, adding to an order for as many as 100 Airbus planes a year earlier.
The budget airline forecasts profit will rise 36 percent this year from 2.5 trillion dong in 2016. VietJet expects to serve 17 million passengers this year, after carrying about 15 million travelers in 2016.
Its biggest competitor remains Vietnam Airlines. The national carrier owns 70 percent of low-cost operator Jetstar Pacific Airlines Aviation JSC, with Qantas Airways Ltd. holding the remaining 30 percent. Vietnam Airlines also owns Vietnam Air Services Co., known as Vasco.
VietJet and Vietnam Airlines each have a 42 percent share of the domestic aviation VietJet’s share could however rise to 50 percent within three years.
“Vietnamese aviation is growing at a high rate,” Thao said. “When we open the door wider for foreign investors and create more opportunities for them, it also means we increase the chance for the local aviation industry and domestic stock market to expand and integrate faster into international aviation markets.”