Apollo-Backed Sun Country Ascends With Travel Hopes in Debut

Sun Country Airlines Holdings Inc., looking for leisure travel to take off as the coronavirus pandemic recedes, climbed 52% in its trading debut after raising $218 million in an initial public offering priced above a marketed range.

Minneapolis-based Sun Country’s shares, which opened trading at $33 Wednesday, closed at $36.38 in New York trading, giving the company a market value of about $2 billion. Sun Country sold about 9.1 million shares on Tuesday for $24 each after marketing them for $21 to $23.

Apollo Global Management Inc. acquired the airline in 2018 and an Apollo affiliate will continue to control the company after the IPO, according to Sun Country’s filings.

The airline specializes in ferrying Midwesterners to vacation destinations such as Florida, as well as those in Latin America and the Caribbean. The company said its growth depends on a return to normal business conditions after the pandemic, which remains a threat.

Sun Country “absolutely” timed its IPO to take advantage of the expected surge in domestic travel as more people are vaccinated against Covid-19 and cases of the virus decline, Chief Executive Officer Jude Bricker said in an interview. U.S. airlines have seen a recent pickup in bookings for summer travel and fares after a year of depressed demand, possible early signs that a recovery has begun, industry executives said at a conference Monday.

‘Rebound Stocks’

“We’re moving from getting through last year to growing the airline again, particularly the passenger business, so that need intersects with pretty receptive equity markets right now for airlines and related rebound stocks,” Sun Country Chief Financial Officer Dave Davis said in the interview. “It made perfect sense to take advantage of it now and get some cash on the balance sheet.”

Sun Country had a net loss of $3.9 million on revenue of $401 million last year, compared with net income of $46 million on revenue of $701 million in 2019, according to its filings.

The airline will use $45 million of the proceeds to repay a federal loan under the CARES Act, the only incremental debt it took on during the pandemic.

“We’re coming through this with a better balance sheet than when we went into it, which I think has got to be unique in the airline industry,” Davis said.

The last U.S. airline IPO was by Mesa Air Group Inc. in 2018. This month, U.S. carrier, Frontier Group Holdings Inc., revived its plans for an IPO. Frontier, which hasn’t set terms for the offering, withdrew its earlier IPO plan in July as passenger traffic dived during the pandemic. Frontier swung from net income of $251 million in 2019 to a loss of $225 million last year, according to its filings.

Breeze, Avelo

The planned starts this year of two discount airlines -- Breeze Aviation Group Inc. and Avelo Airlines -- and the expansion of Southwest Airlines Co. don’t represent troublesome competition for Sun Country, Bricker said, because they primarily will serve different markets and customers. Sun Country also plans to expand its nascent cargo business.

Sun Country, which flies used Boeing Co. 737-800s, won’t buy more aircraft until prices decline, Davis said. It’s held talks off and on for about three years with Boeing, including a possible purchase of 737 Max planes that have lost their buyers. So far they “haven’t been at the right price,” Davis said.

Sun Country’s offering was led by Barclays Plc, Morgan Stanley and Deutsche Bank AG. The shares are trading on the Nasdaq Global Select Market under the symbol SNCY.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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