By A. Ananthalakshmi and Anshuman Daga
Shares in Malaysia's AirAsia Group tumbled more than 17% on Wednesday in their biggest daily fall after the auditor cast doubt on the budget carrier's ability to continue as a going concern due to the coronavirus travel slump.
Auditors EY issued an audit opinion stating the airline's 2019 earnings were prepared on a going concern basis, which is dependent upon a recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and the success of fundraising efforts.
AirAsia said in response that Malaysia's stock exchange had granted it 12 months relief from being classified as a financially distressed firm, a classification that would require it to submit a business improvement plan.
Other firms hit by the pandemic have received similar relief.
"EY is waving a red flag, which signals to investors and creditors serious risks to AirAsia if the current crisis doesn't end soon or if the airline doesn't get a cash injection," said Shukor Yusof, head of aviation consultancy Endau Analytics.
Shares in AirAsia, one of Asia's biggest budget carriers, have plunged 58% this year, giving it a market value of about $550 million. Shares in its long-haul arm, AirAsia X, fell 5% on Wednesday.
Like other airlines, AirAsia has been hit hard as the coronavirus hammers travel demand. It posted a first-quarter loss of 803 million ringgit ($188 million), its biggest loss for the quarter since its 2004 listing.
AirAsia said last month it was evaluating capital-raising proposals to strengthen its equity base.
AirAsia management has given guidance that an equity raising via a placement or rights issue looks imminent, Affin Hwang Capital analyst Isaac Chow wrote in a report on Tuesday.
AirAsia did not comment on its fundraising efforts.
The airline's liabilities exceeded its assets by 1.84 billion ringgit at the end of 2019, Ernst & Young said in its unqualified opinion. An unqualified opinion indicates the auditor believes a company has prepared its statements fairly.
AirAsia said on Monday joint ventures and collaborations were being considered that might result in additional third-party investments in specific segments of its business.
It has also sought payment deferrals from suppliers and lenders and halted all deliveries of Airbus SE jets this year as it seeks to cut costs.
"There's a question mark over the viability of the low cost carrier business model post-COVID19," said Yusof, adding AirAsia had little choice but to shrink its fleet size and slash staff and saying its efforts to expand in India and Japan had not been successful.
Elsewhere in the region, Thai Airways International and Virgin Australia Holdings Ltd have entered bankruptcy protection due to their inability to pay creditors.
($1 = 4.2760 ringgit)
(Reporting by A. Ananthalakshmi in Kuala Lumpur and Anshuman Daga in Singapore; Additional reporting by Jamie Freed in Sydney and Mei Mei Chu in Kuala Lumpur; Editing by Edwina Gibbs and Edmund Blair)