American Is In “Advanced Talks” To Buy Stake In China Southern

In 2015, Delta invested $450 million to acquire a 3.55% stake in Shanghai-based China Eastern. While investing in a subsidized airline is something that you’d think Delta would be opposed to, the intent was clearly that China Eastern would give them better access to Shanghai, which is a major market already, and will grow over time.

China-Eastern-Business-Class-777 - 103
China Eastern A330

Well, it looks like Delta isn’t the only U.S. carrier that wants a piece of a Chinese carrier. Bloomberg is reporting that American is in advanced talks to buy a roughly $200 million stake in Guangzhou-based China Southern. Per the story:

The negotiations focus on an investment of about $200 million by Fort Worth, Texas-based American in China Southern’s Hong Kong-listed shares, said the people, asking not to be identified as talks are confidential. The sale likely would take place through a private placement, one of the people said. China Southern has a market value of about $10 billion.

Under the discussions, American would nominate an observer without voting rights to the Chinese company’s board, the people said. Details of a deal are subject to change and a transaction could still fall through.

China-Southern-787
China Southern 787

I get the logic behind the deal. American doesn’t have a major airline partner within China, and oneworld doesn’t have a member airline based in China, which is an area where they lag quite a bit behind SkyTeam and Star Alliance. Conversely, SkyTeam has both China Eastern and China Southern as China-based partners.

There are a couple of ways this could play out:

  • China Southern could actually switch alliances from SkyTeam to oneworld, given their current second tier status in SkyTeam (including that Delta doesn’t fly to Guangzhou, and is quite committed to their partnership with China Eastern)
  • China Southern could stay in SkyTeam, but we could see expanded codesharing, or perhaps long term even a joint venture, for American and China Southern; after all, a lot of airline partnerships go beyond the alliances today (take a look at Emirates and Qantas)

Unfortunately it doesn’t change the fact that Guangzhou historically hasn’t been a market that U.S. carriers have been interested in. Even though the city has a huge population, it’s very close to Hong Kong, so U.S. carriers have instead focused on offering service to Beijing, Shanghai, and Hong Kong.

Guangzhou
Guangzhou, China

Could this mean that American will launch flights to Guangzhou, or more practically will they simply transfer passengers over to China Southern at their U.S. gateways? Now I’m getting ahead of myself…

China-Southern-A380
China Southern A380

Bottom line

We should find out soon if American does in fact buy a stake in China Southern. I could see the logic of the investment, especially in conjunction with China Southern strengthening their partnership with American, and possibly ditching SkyTeam. Furthermore, Delta did it, so therefore it must be good, in this industry of monkey see, monkey do. 😉

At the same time, I have a hard time getting excited about China Southern (they’re not a great airline), and Guangzhou as a city (it’s big, but I can’t say I love it).

Now if only Hainan could join one of the big alliances…

Do you think American will buy a stake in China Southern, and if so, do you think the airline will switch alliances?

Comments

  1. I thought the cooperation between CZ and AF/KL is pretty good, the standard option between Europe and Australia. So I guess they stay with ST.

  2. “China Southern could actually switch alliances from SkyTeam to oneworld, given their current second tier status in SkyTeam”
    Why do you think that China Southern has a second tier status in Skyteam?
    In Europe, it appears that they are quite well integrated, especially into AirFrance/KLM at AMS and CDG.

  3. @lucky : for the love of god, can you find one image of Guangzhou city that doesn’t look like Armageddon ?

  4. CZ won’t leave ST. Just like AZ won’t leave ST, AB won’t leave OW, LH won’t leave *A, just because EY invested in those airlines. Having investment in one airline by another just means codeshare most of the time and mutual mile-earning in the two FFP. NH bought some of VN but VN still is with ST. VN also bought some of Lao Airlines and Cambodia Angkor Air but those two aren’t in ST.

    Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. CZ is still the 5th largest airline in the world and the llbiggest in China. They’re doing fine. AA just wants a semi-partner in China.

  5. someone is also missing the forest – this isn’t really about CAN because CZ themselves have a sizable presence at both PVG and PEK to feed AA’s services, with PEK actually being one of CZ’s secondary hubs.

    Of course, there are smarty pants who fantasize about junk routes like DFW-CAN.

  6. @Alex: I agree with you. I don’t know own ehat Lucky thinks CZ is second tier in ST when its fleet size and pax volume supersede AF, KL and AM (all founding members of ST). CZ is also starting service to MEX, another ST hub with AM.

    The only thing is, if you’re a US-based flyer and an elite with DL, when flying CZ on CZ stock, DL gives you group-3 mile-earning and MQM/MQD.

    Additionally, Xiaman Air, a subsidiary of CZ, is part of ST too. Both airlines are fine within ST.

  7. @Ben : CZ being largest in China is a rather meaningless metric considering their mediocre reputation and paltry long haul network (much smaller than either CA or MU, and on the verge of being leapfrogged by HU). The only thing that mattered to AA is their feed capacity available at PEK and PVG.

    AA was forced to pick them because CA is with UA, MU is with DL, HU partnership stagnated and went nowhere, so CZ is the only viable option left.

    The delicious irony is that both HU (which owns HKAir and HKExpress) and CZ (home hub at CAN) can irk CX like no tomorrow.

  8. @ China Southern could actually switch alliances from SkyTeam to oneworld, given their current second tier status in SkyTeam (including that Delta doesn’t fly to Guangzhou…

    That’s analytics of 83th level, indeed. Delta doesn’t serve Guangzhou. This obviously makes China Southern second tier airline within SkyTeam.

    Ben you’re fantastic with your in flight reviews. Truly. I believe you’re the best one with all the attention to details. However maybe you should stick to what you’re best in? Otherwise some education, like getting at least a bachelor degree, might help with more comprehensive analysis.

  9. @henry LAX: Yes size matters. Tons of people still fly CZ despite their reputation. Hell, AA has a bad reputation too. My point is, CZ won’t leave ST.

  10. My thought is…American was undergoing unknown resistance in expanding Chinese market, so it needs some cooperation with Chinese carriers. Anyway, happy to see CZ join One World group so I can burn my tons of AA miles 🙂

  11. Agreed. The notion that CZ, the dominant airline in PRC and “Asia’s largest airline in fleet size, revenue and passengers carried”, is “second” tier and could leave ST is simply fantastic…

    BTW, I just love how airport announcers in China refer to CZ on PA systems, pronouncing the ‘Z’ as ‘Zed’: “China Southern, Flight ‘C-Zed’-33 departing for Guangzhou…etc….”

  12. @DCS,
    You just reminded me that it’s actually because Chinese English teachers teach this way…not sure why but it seems to me that they teach some kind of wired English in textbook.

  13. @DCS, Gking89 it’s because Chinese languages (and some other asian languages in general) do not have a V, also R sound, so they are taught to substitute usually a B or a W. Without any basis for comparison they cannot physically move theiir mouths into the proper positions to make these sounds without years of practice at an early age. Likewise, there are certain tones in Mandarin that a non native has trouble making simply because we’ve never used that shape or combination of our mouth components before and have no formal corresponding sound in the English languange. But I agree it can make for difficult understanding at times.

  14. @Gking89: The English they teach is no “wired”-er than the English in your comment; zed is Commonweslth English.

  15. @Steven has provided the answer for ‘Z’ as ‘Zed’. I did not mean to imply that it was wrong or weird English, because I was aware that it was Commonwealth English to say ‘Zed’ for ‘Z’ . In French, the letter Z is pronounced as ‘Zed’. My mention of it as heard on airport PA systems was simply that “I just love” how it sounds. 🙂

  16. While investing in Chinese carriers is probably a good use of money I’d argue that AA needs to fix its brand and product in the US before investing. AA is inferior to DL in product and China Southern won’t do much for that.

  17. Besides more service to China, American added flights to Hong Kong in recent years which gives access to Mainland China via CX & Dragon. It would make sense for them to have partners farther north in China since Hong Kong is out of the way to most of China. Unfortunately more partnership with CZ wouldn’t really resolve that since CAN is only 80 or so miles from HKG. Hainan would make more sense in my opinion and would be a good thing as you mentioned.

    It makes me wonder about the future plans of CX in relation to AA and/or Oneworld.

  18. If China Southern nominated by AA to join oneworld, Cathay Pacific will strongly opposed to that since they want to keep their status as sole oneworld member in Great China region, let alone that CAN and HKG are only 80 miles away.
    That represents AA and China Southern will launch individual joint ventures instead of alliances.

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