Known as the ‘big bull’, ace investor Rakesh Jhunjhunwala has officially made public his entry into India’s bloodied aviation sector, which has been hammered by the ensuing restrictions around the Covid-19 pandemic. Speaking at a virtual panel discussion on Saturday, Jhunjhunwala stated that he would be promoting a new airline, but didn’t divulge further details.
“I love when people say you want to be a millionaire and that’s why you are investing in an airline,” said Jhunjhunwala, who runs the private equity and asset management firm Rare Enterprises.
“I like that kind of attitude when I do something,” he quipped.
Jhunjhunwala is estimated to have a net worth in excess of $4 billion, while his shareholding of about 5% in jewellery to perfume maker Titan Company Limited is alone worth $1 billion. “By the way, one-third of my wealth is in unlisted equities. I also invested in 14 to 15 companies and am now promoting a new airline,” Jhunjhunwala said, while speaking at the virtual panel that was organised by investment bank Equirus.
On July 13, The Economic Times had reported that Jhunjhunwala “is understood to be exploring a plan to back a new, low-fare airline venture” and had held “preliminary talks for an investment of up to $35 million” in the airline. Jhunjhunwala has in the past placed bets on listed domestic airline stocks of IndiGo, Jet Airways and SpiceJet. In fact, in May 2017, he had famously grilled the top brass of InterGlobe Aviation, the owners of IndiGo, for their poor performance.
Richard Branson, the billionaire founder of the Virgin Group, had once famously said that "If you want to be a millionaire, start with a billion dollars and launch a new airline.” And India’s aviation market is testament to that given the number of airlines that have gone bankrupt over the last three decades.
In the current scenario of Covid-19, according to rating agency ICRA, Indian airlines had seen net losses of ₹21,000 crore in FY21. ICRA estimates a net loss of ₹ 12,700 crore for domestic carriers in FY22, with the industry debt level increasing to around ₹50,000 crore. “The environment is simply not conducive for any new carrier to get into the Indian market,” Jitender Bhargava, the former executive director of Air India, had told Fortune India in a recent interview.
“Unless you have passion, determination, risk appetite, deep pockets and patience like the @TataCompanies (Tata Group), do not invest in an airline in India,” Vinamra Longani, head of operations for Sarin & Co., an Indian law firm specialising in aircraft leasing and finance, had tweeted.
“If you do, the unending competition, cheap fares and high costs will in all likelihood drive you to an unfortunate end.”
However, Jhunjhunwala seems unperturbed by the ground realities “I like to look at things in a very broad way,” he said. “People call me by various names—sometimes big bull like Harshad Mehta, then Warren Buffet. I don’t know what I am, but I am what I am.”