Lufthansa Seeks Deal on Bailout Exit Before Merkel Leaves Office


Deutsche Lufthansa AG is seeking to secure a deal on how Germany will wind down its investment in the airline before Angela Merkel’s government leaves office, a moment that could see a less sympathetic coalition sweep to power. 

The comments by Chief Executive Officer Carsten Spohr amount to an admission that his previous deadline of repaying the remainder of a 9 billion-euro ($10.7 billion) state bailout before a Sept. 26 election has slipped. Still, a changeover could leave the current government in place for months.

Merkel’s conservatives have lost ground to Olaf Scholz’s Social Democrats, a party that envisages the state holding on to its Lufthansa stake for longer. With the chancellor planning to step down after 16 years in power, Lufthansa would like to settle on an exit deal as soon as possible — preferably with the current government, Spohr said. 

“We want to leave this topic behind us a quickly as we can,” Spohr said at a media event in Frankfurt. “We’d rather owe our debt to the financial markets than to the taxpayer.”

Lufthansa needs to raise about 2 billion euros in capital to have enough to fully exit the government’s 20% stake, which makes Germany the biggest investor in the airline group. But since June, when Spohr targeted raising the money by this month, a global resurgence in coronavirus infections has stalled the aviation recovery, sending Lufthansa share prices to their lowest since last November.

That’s dimmed prospects for a quick share sale, putting Lufthansa at risk of being saddled with a longer-term state holding that restricts M&A and dividends at joint ventures. The SPD supports more state involvement in the economy than Merkel’s CDU, suggesting they would be less inclined to agree to swiftly exit the Lufthansa shareholding. The airline must reach an agreement with the government before the stake can be sold.

The government last month said it plans to reduce its holding by about one quarter, dashing Lufthansa’s hopes for a state exit before the elections. Spohr declined to give details about the size and exact timing of the equity to be raised. He reiterated that selling the company’s remaining catering business, or a minority stake in its maintenance arm, remained options for cutting its debt pile. 

Spohr’s comments come after polls this week showed backing for the SPD rose by one point to 25%, while Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union and its Bavaria-based CSU affiliate declined one point to a combined 20%. It was the CDU/CSU’s fifth consecutive week of decline in Insa’s polling.

While Merkel’s party could lose the election, it could take several months for other parties to agree to form a new coalition, giving Lufthansa more time to talk to the present administration.