Many Lufthansa shareholders are selling their shares because thousands of flights will be canceled in the summer and there will be no ticket income. The airline share lost a good 20 percent of its value within six months. The Hamburg logistics entrepreneur and billionaire Klaus Michael Kühne, on the other hand, took advantage of the fall in the share price.

In the middle of the crisis in air traffic with chaotic scenes at the airports, he has confidence in the airline and further increased his share package from just over ten percent to 15.01 percent. This makes Kühne the largest Lufthansa shareholder. According to a mandatory stock exchange announcement published on Wednesday evening, the shares are held by the relatively new Kühne Aviation GmbH.

The 85-year-old entrepreneur bought his substantial Lufthansa share within a few months. In March there was the first report of a four percent stake, in April it was already ten percent and now Kühne just overtakes the Federal Republic as the last largest single shareholder. The federal government got involved in the Corona industry crisis in 2020 with billions in aid and an initial stake of 20 percent in the airline to prevent insolvency. The federal government currently holds a good 14 percent. But Lufthansa wants to get by without state participation in the future.

The entrepreneur Kühne shouldn’t be interested in holidaymakers or business people who fly with Lufthansa or Eurowings, although freight is usually transported in addition to suitcases on passenger flights. Industry experts assume that Kühne is focusing on the very lucrative Lufthansa Cargo business, which is constantly presenting new record results and has developed into a money-printing machine for the airline. For comparison: In the first quarter of 2022, the turnover in the logistics division rose by 46 percent to 1.17 billion euros and the operating result by 52 percent to 481 million euros surplus, while the passenger airlines segment incurred an operating loss of one billion euros.

Kühne is obviously banking on changes in long-distance transport. Air freight is becoming an alternative for more and more companies when international supply chains by ship are disrupted, even if it is considerably more expensive. Among other things, Kühne has a 30 percent stake in the Hamburg shipping company Hapag-Lloyd, and there is an industry trend that large shipping companies are investing in air freight. For example, the French CMA CGM, after all the world’s number three shipping company, has joined Lufthansa’s competitor Air France-KLM. Shipping company market leader Maersk founded its own freighter subsidiary in April.

Kühne has already made it clear that his Lufthansa stake is a strategic investment, not a price speculation. He would like to have a say and control on the supervisory board, probably through his trusted Hapag-Lloyd vice-chairman Karl Gernandt, who is also the managing director of Kühne Aviation. “We want to be taken seriously,” explained the 61-year-old Gernandt in April in an interview with the “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung”. Kühne wants to enter into a “strategic dialogue” with the Lufthansa leadership, i.e. above all with Lufthansa boss Carsten Spohr. This is often a diplomatic paraphrase for clear demands from a major shareholder.

Lufthansa boss Spohr, who is currently being criticized for his crisis management, experienced something similar in 2020. Two years ago, the Munich Knorr-Bremse entrepreneur and billionaire Heinz Hermann Thiele joined Lufthansa and, like Kühne, had also increased his stake to around 15 percent. Thiele initially criticized the state’s involvement in the airline rescue. In February 2021, Thiele died unexpectedly at the age of 79 and his heirs then sold shares.

In the case of the major shareholder Kühne, there is speculation in the industry about a possible separation of Lufthansa Cargo from the group. Kühne as an entrepreneur and patron of the HSV football club is not considered a silent investor. He will put pressure on, they say. However, Kühne manager Gernandt recently admitted in a conversation with the “Handelsblatt” that nobody could have foreseen the enormous changes caused by the pandemic. As a long-term investor, Kühne supports Lufthansa as a partner, says the manager. With the three divisions Technology, Cargo and Passage, the group is well balanced.

In any case, Kühne can easily pay for his Lufthansa commitment financially. The listed transport and logistics group Hapag-Lloyd has increased the dividend it paid out this year for 2021 tenfold from EUR 3.50 to EUR 35.00 because business is going so well. Kühne will benefit from the distribution. The logistics giant is currently valued at a good 44 billion euros on the stock exchange – the entire Lufthansa with 6.7 billion euros. Kühne’s 15 percent stake in the airline is worth around one billion euros.

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