Pressure mounts on Italy to save ailing Alitalia

Alitalia, which employs more than 11,000 people, has struggled to compete with low-cost European rivals and was placed in administration in 2017. (Reuters)
Updated 15 April 2019

Pressure mounts on Italy to save ailing Alitalia

  • Unions warned this weekend that the national carrier risked being ‘euthanized’
  • Alitalia, which employs more than 11,000 people, has struggled to compete with low-cost European rivals

ROME: Concern was mounting in Italy on Monday over the fate of the troubled national airline Alitalia, with just 15 days until the deadline for the state railway company to submit a concrete takeover offer.
Unions warned this weekend that the carrier risked being “euthanized,” spooking Italy’s populist coalition government, which can ill afford a fresh Alitalia disaster as it campaigns for May’s European elections.
Italy’s Ferrovie dello Stato (FS) submitted an offer to buy Alitalia at the end of October, but does not want to hold any more than 30 percent in the airline.
FS had been discussing a potential partnership with both Atlanta-based Delta and EasyJet, Britain’s biggest low-cost airline, but the latter said last month that it was pulling out of the negotiations.
In addition to FS’s 30 percent, Delta is interested in taking 15 percent, and the Italian Treasury another 15 percent, according to Italian media reports.
In that case, one or more partners would still need to be found for the remaining 40 percent. The binding offer must be submitted by April 30.
According to media reports, Delta is in contact with the Chinese company China Eastern, and has also approached Italian infrastructure group Atlantia.
However, any deal with Atlantia would be toxic for the government, which has repeatedly lambasted the company.
Atlantia’s majority-owned subsidiary Autostrade came under fire last summer after a large bridge in Genoa collapsed, killing more than 40 people.
Should the FS bid fail, German airline Lufthansa has expressed interest in Alitalia, but has ruled out any deal that involved the Italian state and would likely cut thousands of jobs.
Three unions for Alitalia pilot and cabin crews — ANPAC, ANPAV and ANP — warned in a statement Saturday that the situation risked deteriorating further with a June 30 deadline for the repayment of a €900 million ($1 billion) state loan.
The unions said they would not sit back and watch the “state euthanasia, and are ready to mobilize and open direct talks with possible industrial and financial partners who would guarantee a credible launch of the new Alitalia.”
The airline, which employs more than 11,000 people, has struggled to compete with low-cost European rivals and was placed in administration in 2017.

Japan’s households tighten purse strings as sales tax and typhoon hit

Updated 06 December 2019

Japan’s households tighten purse strings as sales tax and typhoon hit

  • Falls in factory output, jobs and retail add to fears of worsening slowdown after Tokyo unveils $122bn stimulus package

TOKYO: Japanese households cut their spending for the first time in almost a year in October as a sales tax hike prompted consumers to rein in expenses and natural disasters disrupted business.

Household spending dropped 5.1 percent in October from a year earlier, government data showed on Friday.

It is the first fall in household spending in 11 months and the biggest fall since March 2016 when spending fell by 5.3 percent. It was also weaker than the median forecast for a 3 percent decline.

That marked a sharp reversal from the 9.5 percent jump in September, the fastest growth on record as consumers rushed to buy goods before the Oct. 1 sales tax hike from 8 percent to 10 percent.

“Not only is the sales tax hike hurting consumer spending but impacts from the typhoon also accelerated the decline in the spending,” said Taro Saito, executive research fellow at NLI Research Institute.

“We expect the economy overall and consumer spending will contract in the current quarter and then moderately pick up January-March, but such recovery won't be strong enough.”

Household spending fell by 4.6 percent in April 2014 when Japan last raised the sales tax to 8 percent from 5 percent. It took more than a year for the sector to return to growth.

Compared with the previous month, household spending fell 11.5 percent in October, the fastest drop since April 2014, a faster decline than the median 9.8 percent forecast.

Analysts said a powerful typhoon in October, which lashed swathes of Japan with heavy rain, also played a factor in the downbeat data. Some shops and restaurants closed during the storm and consumers stayed home.

Separate data also showed the weak state of the economy.

The index of coincident economic indicators, which consists of a range of data including factory output, employment and retail sales data, fell a preliminary 5.6 points to 94.8 in October from the previous month, the lowest reading since February 2013, the Cabinet Office said on Friday.

It was also the fastest pace of decline since March 2011, according to the data.

Real wages adjusted for inflation, meanwhile, edged up for a second straight month in October, but the higher levy and weak global economy raise worries about the prospect for consumer spending and the overall economy.

While the government has sought to offset the hit to consumers through vouchers and tax breaks, there are fears the higher tax could hurt an economy already feeling the pinch from global pressures.

Japan unveiled a $122 billion fiscal package on Thursday to support stalling growth and as policymakers look to sustain activity beyond the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

A recent spate of weak data, such as exports and factory output, have raised worries about the risk of a sharper-than-expected slowdown. The economy grew by an annualized 0.2 percent in the third quarter, the weakest pace in a year.

Analysts expect the economy to shrink in the current quarter due to the sales tax hike.