Billionaire Sawiris Boosts Private-Jet Bet Amid Takeover Battle

Egyptian billionaire Nassef Sawiris increased his bet on the private jet industry, accumulating additional shares in Signature Aviation Plc amid a takeover battle for the company.

NNS, the investment vehicle of Sawiris, bought 2.14 million shares of London-listed Signature Aviation at 405.36 pence ($5.47) apiece on Jan. 8, according to a regulatory filing on Monday. The purchase brought NNS’s stake up to 7.41% of the company, from 7.16%.

Blackstone Group Inc. said last week it was teaming up with billionaire Bill Gates on a potential bid of $5.17 per share for the company, which is the world’s largest operator of private jet bases. Sawiris’s wager that Signature is worth more looked vindicated Monday when rival suitor Global Infrastructure Partners announced a recommended offer of $5.50 per share, or $4.63 billion.

Carlyle Group Inc. is also considering a bid, according to a filing last week. Signature became a hotly contested asset as private flying remains one of the few travel sectors to have benefited from the coronavirus pandemic. It offers the well-heeled the ability to continue traveling while minimizing potentially risky contact with other passengers.

While Signature directors have recommended the GIP offer, nothing precludes Blackstone or Carlyle from making a proposal that the board will consider, the company said Monday.

The involvement of Gates, who owns 19% of Signature Aviation, could make it more difficult for rival suitors to acquire enough Signature stock to take it private. Blackstone owns 70% of the bidding vehicle, while Gates’s Cascade Investment LLC will contribute its shareholding and top it up with cash to become a 30% owner. The Microsoft Corp. founder has vowed to work exclusively with Blackstone and vote against other bids.

Carlyle is still studying whether to make a firm offer for Signature, people with knowledge of the matter said. NNS could throw its support to whoever emerges as the highest bidder, by agreeing to sell its stake or even joining a bidding group, according to the people.

Sawiris is Egypt’s richest person, with an estimated net worth of $6.7 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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