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Air China kept neutral, to gain from consolidation- Goldman Sachs

8-Jan-2008

Beijing (XFN-ASIA) - Goldman Sachs said it is maintaining

its "neutral" rating on Air China in the expectation that the carrier

will be the biggest beneficiary of consolidation in the Chinese aviation sector.

However, much will depend on the outcome of a bid by Singapore Airlines and Temasek for a 24 pct stake in struggling China Eastern Airlines.

Air China's parent CNAC has declared that it will offer no less than five usd a share for China Eastern if the 3.80 hkd a share bid by SIA and Temasek is voted down by minority shareholders tomorrow.

But Goldman Sachs said China Eastern appears reluctant to work with CNAC, which would also need approval from various regulatory bodies to make a counter-bid.

"We believe China Eastern is reluctant to work with CNAC, it is not clear to us why it would agree to issue new shares to CNAC," it said.

But further consolidation within China seems increasingly likely, particularly given Li Jiaxing's appointment as head of the country's aviation regulator.

Li has said that domestic airlines should merge and consolidate further.

"We believe Air China could be the biggest beneficiaries under this scenario," Goldman Sachs said.

It added that Air China's strategic investor, Cathay Pacific, could be asked to join CNAC's bid for China Eastern.

"Cathay Pacific offers the best risk-reward within our airline coverage," said Goldman Sachs, which has a "buy" recommendation on the Hong Kong airline.


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