Will the fourth time be the charm for JetBlue?
The New York-based airline on Monday made its fourth offer since March to acquire Spirit Airlines — and this time, Spirit had provided JetBlue with due diligence.
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Spirit signed a merger agreement with Frontier Airlines in February — an agreement that has been the preference of Spirit’s management team and board — but one that is worth considerably less than each of JetBlue’s four offers. In its latest offer, JetBlue offers $33.50 per share for Spirit, or about $3.7 billion total — about 68% more than the value of Frontier’s merger. So far, Spirit has contended that JetBlue’s offer was not better because it didn’t believe it would win approval from regulators.
Earlier this month, Spirit shareholders were to vote on the Frontier merger deal — a vote that was postponed to June 30.
Then, last week, Spirit announced it was providing JetBlue with the same due diligence that Frontier was receiving. That lack of due diligence — sensitive information about Spirit — had long been JetBlue’s top complaint about Spirit. JetBlue’s CEO, Robin Hayes, accused the Spirit team of essentially walking away from them, and not providing enough information. Now, the field was level between Frontier and JetBlue — at least in this regard.
“After discussions with the Spirit team last week and further due diligence review, we are more convinced than ever that a JetBlue-Spirit transaction would create a true national competitor to the Big Four and deliver value to all of our stakeholders,” Hayes said in a statement on Monday. “Together, we will deliver lower fares and a better experience to more customers.”
Hayes touted an “extremely positive reaction from Spirit stockholders” for its offer to acquire Spirit.
In a statement, Spirit said its board was reviewing JetBlue’s new offer.
In addition to upping the sale price, JetBlue’s new offer on Monday includes a commitment to divest more assets of JetBlue and Spirit to satisfy regulators. These assets could include items of great value to the combined company such as gates and slots at congested northeast airports. Previously, JetBlue committed to divest Spirit assets in New York and Boston — JetBlue’s two largest markets.
In fact, it remains unclear if regulators will be satisfied with this deal. JetBlue aims to preserve its valuable Northeast Alliance with American Airlines — the airline’s most important strategic partnership — but many analysts believe that regulators in the Justice Department’s antitrust division will not allow JetBlue to both acquire Spirit and continue its cooperation with American.
Should regulators block JetBlue’s deal on anti-trust grounds, it would pay a $350 million reverse break-up fee to Spirit.
But, as has been the case with this multi-month saga, it’s anyone’s guess what happens next.
Featured photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy.
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