Jet Airways Misses Payment to Lenders, Rating Cut to Default

(Bloomberg) -- Jet Airways India Ltd. has missed a payment to Indian lenders in the latest sign of mounting strains at the country’s second largest airline by passengers, after losses worsened a cash crunch.

The setback underscores a lack of progress lining up sufficient funds for debt payments after the beleaguered carrier approached banks for a moratorium on loans and asked for fresh funds in October. Shares in Jet Airways closed down 6.1 percent, the sharpest decline in more than three weeks.

The missed payment prompted a downgrade on ratings of its loans and bonds by credit assessor ICRA to D, a score that signifies that borrowers are in default or are expected to be soon.

The beleaguered carrier said in an exchange filing that payment of interest and principal installment due on Dec. 31 to a consortium of Indian banks led by State Bank of India "has been delayed due to temporary cashflow mismatch" and that the company "has engaged with them in relation to the same."

The filing didn’t specify the amount due and didn’t provide further details.

Crushing fare wars are a hallmark of India’s intensely competitive aviation market, and Mumbai-based Jet Airways hasn’t seen a profit in nine of the past 11 fiscal years. The company reported its third straight quarterly loss in November with surging liabilities that signaled a deepening of financial distress. A weakening rupee also added to its woes. It has fallen behind on payments to staff and lessors.

Jet Airways has been talking to its foreign equity partner Etihad Airways PJSC and a clutch of financial investors to avoid potential defaults to lenders and lessors, people familiar with the matter said. It has also sought a short-term loan of 15 billion rupees ($216 million) from State Bank of India for working capital and the bank is currently conducting a forensic audit for possible approval of such a facility, according to the people.

The company didn’t have any immediate comment when contacted Wednesday.

In the last couple months, Jet Airways founder and chairman Naresh Goyal, along with Etihad Airways chief executive officer Tony Douglas, met Rajnish Kumar, chairman of India’s largest lender, State Bank of India, multiple times at its Mumbai headquarters to explore a resolution mechanism.

“Jet Airways continues to have negative networth due to accumulated losses and diminution in the value of its investments in its subsidiary Jet Lite (India) Ltd.,” ICRA said in its statement. “Furthermore, the liquidity strain has aggravated due to delays by the company in implementation of its liquidity initiatives.”

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