Spirit Airlines Board of Directors Urges Stockholders to Reject JetBlue Offer
May 19, 2022
By AeroCrew News
Spirit Airlines, Inc. announced on May 19, 2022, that its Board of Directors (the “Board”), after consultation with its outside financial and legal advisors, has unanimously determined that the unsolicited tender offer from JetBlue Airways Corporation (“JetBlue”) (NASDAQ: JBLU) to acquire all outstanding shares of Spirit’s common stock for $30 per share in cash (the “Offer”) is NOT in the best interests of Spirit and its stockholders. In its comprehensive analysis, the Board determined that the JetBlue transaction faces substantial regulatory hurdles, especially while the Northeast Alliance (“NEA”) with American Airlines remains in effect, and is, as a result, not reasonably capable of being consummated and is not superior to Spirit’s agreed merger transaction with Frontier.
Accordingly, the Spirit Board unanimously recommends that Spirit stockholders not tender any of their shares into the Offer and continues to recommend that stockholders vote FOR the merger agreement with Frontier. Additional information about the significant strategic and financial benefits of the merger with Frontier and voting instructions are at http://ir.spirit.comand in the proxy statement/prospectus mailed to Spirit stockholders on May 11, 2022.
“JetBlue’s tender offer has not addressed the core issue of the significant completion risk and insufficient protections for Spirit stockholders,” said Mac Gardner, Chairman of the Board of Directors for Spirit Airlines. “Based on our own research and the advice of antitrust and economic experts, our view is that the proposed combination of JetBlue and Spirit lacks any realistic likelihood of obtaining regulatory approval, while our company faces a long and bleak limbo period as we await resolution. In that scenario, a $1.83 per share reverse break-up fee will not come close to adequately compensating Spirit stockholders for the significant business disruption Spirit will face during what JetBlue acknowledges will be a protracted regulatory process. Our pending merger with Frontier is advancing as planned, and we continue to recommend that Spirit stockholders vote FOR the merger with Frontier on June 10th, as we believe the combination of these two ULCCs is the best way to deliver maximum value to Spirit stockholders.”
The Spirit Board conducted a comprehensive review of the Offer and recommends Spirit stockholders reject the Offer for the following reasons:
- The JetBlue transaction faces very substantial regulatory hurdles, especially while the NEA is in effect
- Spirit does not believe that the JetBlue transaction is likely to receive regulatory approval.
- Spirit retained top-tier aviation and economic consultants and worked with JetBlue and its advisors for four weeks to reach an informed view about the regulatory risk posed by the JetBlue proposals of March 29 and April 29 and the subsequent JetBlue tender offer. In the end, after several weeks and counting, Spirit concluded that the consummation of the proposed JetBlue combination, with the NEA remaining in place, seemed almost inconceivable – especially given the cavalier manner in which JetBlue intends to address the significant regulatory risk.
- The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) is currently suing JetBlue and American Airlines, alleging that the NEA is anti-competitive. Not only Spirit, but also many other airlines and air travel constituencies have publicly opposed the NEA on grounds that it is anticompetitive. Spirit does not believe that the JetBlue proposal to acquire Spirit will be approved by the DOJ in light of that litigation.
- Moreover, Spirit does not believe the DOJ, or a court, will be persuaded that JetBlue should be allowed to form an anticompetitive alliance that aligns its interests with a legacy carrier (American) and then undertake an acquisition that will eliminate the largest ULCC carrier in the U.S. (Spirit).
- Nonetheless, by insisting on prioritizing its position in the NEA as it pursues a Spirit merger, JetBlue effectively imposes this heightened regulatory risk entirely on Spirit stockholders.
- Even putting aside the NEA, Spirit believes the DOJ – and a court – will be very concerned that a JetBlue-Spirit combination will result in a higher-cost/higher fare airline that would eliminate a lower-cost/lower fare airline and remove about half of the ULCC capacity in the United States.
- The conversion of Spirit aircraft to JetBlue configuration will result in significantly diminished capacity on former Spirit routes, and, as JetBlue has stated, will also result in higher prices for consumers.
- JetBlue’s proposed divestitures are highly unlikely to resolve the DOJ’s concerns given the NEA’s alignment of JetBlue’s and American’s incentives across the country
- JetBlue’s proposed divestiture of Spirit assets in New York and Boston does not address the broader competitive implications of effectively merging Spirit into JetBlue’s alliance with American.
- The DOJ has alleged that “the harms threatened by the [NEA] … extend well beyond Boston and New York City. … The [NEA] allows American to forgo independent growth that would have benefited consumers. By effectively absorbing JetBlue’s operations in Boston and New York City, American can reduce investments not just in those cities, but also in other parts of its network where it otherwise would maintain or add service. Consequently, consumers across the country will have fewer options and pay higher fares.”
- Current DOJ antitrust leadership has expressed deep skepticism about the effectiveness of divestiture remedies and a preference for seeking to block transactions rather than accept divestiture-based settlements.
- JetBlue’s offer puts the risk of the antitrust condition NOT being satisfied on Spirit stockholders
- Any JetBlue transaction cannot close without HSR approval, which even JetBlue concedes could take up to 24 months. Spirit shareholders are being asked to bear substantial risks without commensurate protections.
- The Spirit Board expects the DOJ would bring a lawsuit to block the acquisition, and that any such lawsuit is unlikely to be resolved until between 18 and 24 months after the date of JetBlue’s initial HSR filing.
- During the extensive discussions held between Spirit and JetBlue, JetBlue itself admitted that a lawsuit from DOJ seeking to block the merger was a 100% certainty; therefore, JetBlue would have to prevail or settle (which would be contrary to DOJ’s avowed enforcement approach) in order to consummate its proposed acquisition of Spirit.
- JetBlue’s conditions to the Offer also subject Spirit stockholders to significant risk from fluctuating market conditions and stock market volatility
- The Offer excuses JetBlue from consummating the transaction if there is any decline in either the Dow Jones, the S&P 500 or the NASDAQ-100 Index by an amount in excess of 10%, measured from the close of business on May 13, 2022, prior to receipt of regulatory approval, which could take up to two years.
- Since JetBlue first submitted its proposal to acquire Spirit on March 29, 2022, the Dow Jones is down 10.8%, the S&P 500 is down 15.3% and the NASDAQ-100 is down 21.7%.
- Debt financing for an acquisition of Spirit by JetBlue remains questionable
- According to JetBlue, the financing commitment letters have an expiration date 14 months from the date of the commitment letters, with certain possible extensions that are subject to (undisclosed) conditions. The Spirit Board believes the regulatory review and challenge process for any acquisition by JetBlue would likely require more than 14 months.
In public comments issued on Monday, May 16, 2022, JetBlue misleads Spirit and JetBlue stockholders with inaccurate statements and mischaracterizations. The facts are:
- Spirit Airlines’ independent Board is acting in the best interests of all Spirit stockholders and engaged constructively with JetBlue
- Seven of Spirit’s eight Board members are independent. The Board has been advised by outside legal counsel and financial advisors and conducted a thorough process in evaluating JetBlue’s original proposal.
- Spirit’s Board made the requisite determination to allow Spirit to enter into a non-disclosure agreement with JetBlue to allow discussions.
- Spirit shared projections with JetBlue’s financial advisors and provided voluminous documentary due diligence material through a secure virtual data room.
- Spirit’s antitrust advisors spent many hours, involving seven separate calls, with JetBlue’s antitrust advisors seeking to understand the anti-trust risks of the JetBlue proposal and JetBlue’s plans to address those risks.
- Following a two-hour call with the JetBlue CEO, CFO and members of its management team in which Spirit’s management team addressed all of the questions asked by the JetBlue team, JetBlue and its advisors thanked Spirit for their openness and transparency.
- Spirit believes JetBlue’s proposals and offer are a cynical attempt to disrupt Spirit’s merger with Frontier, which JetBlue views as a competitive threat
- JetBlue claims it has harbored an interest in a combination with Spirit for “many years.” Yet JetBlue waited over seven weeks after the announcement of the Frontier merger agreement to submit a proposal to acquire Spirit, and JetBlue chose to launch the Offer shortly after the merger proxy statement for the Frontier merger was mailed to Spirit stockholders. That timing does not seem coincidental.
- Spirit and JetBlue’s CEOs know each other well and Spirit and JetBlue speak regularly on general industry matters, especially recently as both carriers were managing through the pandemic, but JetBlue has never indicated any interest in a combination with Spirit. Moreover, Spirit’s former CEO sits on the Board of JetBlue. JetBlue’s familiarity with Spirit would have made it easy for it to initiate engagement regarding a combination at any time.
- JetBlue’s focus on Spirit appears to be an attempt to distract from the fact that JetBlue’s own business is in disarray
- Since March 29, the date of JetBlue’s initial proposal to acquire Spirit, JetBlue’s stock has fallen about 34%. Indeed, JetBlue’s stock price has repeatedly fallen whenever JetBlue makes public comments regarding a proposed transaction with Spirit. JetBlue stockholders obviously agree that that their company’s quixotic offer for Spirit is a dead end, posing substantial risks to their own business.
- As noted in multiple public reports, JetBlue “has a host of issues to resolve in-house.” As stated by Emilie Feldman, a management professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, “A lot of times companies will do acquisitions to avoid having to fix their own house. Sometimes it’s better to let the acquisition go and fix your own business.” (CNBC, May 6, 2022).
- JetBlue has run last or near last in DOT operational metrics in 2022 and for the past several years.
- JetBlue’s claims about the so-called ‘JetBlue Effect’ are based on economic modeling that Spirit believes has significant defects and overstates the impact of JetBlue on legacy carriers, when in reality, it is Spirit that continues to be a check on other airlines’ fares – including JetBlue’s
- After receiving the summary output of JetBlue’s economic model from JetBlue’s advisors, Spirit’s economic consultants identified reasons to doubt that such an effect would significantly exceed any similar “ULCC effect.”
JetBlue’s illusory Offer would deprive Spirit stockholders of the long-term benefits and deprive consumers of savings expected to result from the Frontier merger
- Spirit stockholders would not have the opportunity to participate in the upside from airline industry recovery and benefits from the Frontier transaction
- JetBlue’s Offer comes at a time when airline stocks are trading significantly below their pre-pandemic levels. The airline industry recovering to pre-pandemic levels would alone deliver Spirit shareholders value well in excess of JetBlue’s offer.
- JetBlue is asking Spirit shareholders to submit to a cap on their value at $30/share, and be forced to wait for up to two years to receive their cash, while the rest of the industry’s shareholders get to participate in a full post-pandemic recovery.
- Unlike the Frontier transaction, in JetBlue’s Offer, Spirit stockholders will not participate in substantial ongoing synergies created in the combined business. In the Frontier combination, Spirit stockholders continue to own 48.5% of the combined company and thereby participate in its future growth.
- The Spirit and Frontier merger will create America’s most competitive ultra-low fare airline
- A combination of Spirit and Frontier is a merger of two ULCCs producing $1 billion of consumer benefit and synergies derived from more flying on existing assets.
- On a combined basis, the company would have annual revenues of ~$5.3 billion based on 2021 results.
- The combined airline will add new routes and offer more than 1,000 daily flights to over 145 destinations in 19 countries across complementary networks.
- Once combined, Frontier and Spirit expect to deliver annual run-rate operating synergies of $500 million once full integration is completed, which will be primarily driven by scale efficiencies and procurement savings across the enterprise with approximately $400 million in one-time costs.
The basis for the Board’s decision is set forth in the Solicitation/Recommendation Statement on Schedule 14D-9 (the “Schedule 14D-9”) filed today with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
Barclays and Morgan Stanley & Co. LLC are serving as financial advisors to Spirit, and Debevoise & Plimpton LLP and Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP are serving as legal advisors.