Spirit Airlines, a bidding war target, postpones buyout vote

Spirit Airlines, the target of a budget airline bidding war, is postponing a Friday shareholder vote on whether to accept one of those buyout offers after a flurry of counter proposals from Frontier Airlines and JetBlue Airways.

Spirit said Wednesday that it rescheduled the vote on its preferred offer, from Frontier, until June 30, giving its board another three weeks to speak with Frontier, JetBlue, and its own shareholders.

The decision to postpone the vote comes two days after JetBlue improved its offer. JetBlue said Wednesday that it welcomed the delay “as a necessary first step toward genuine negotiations between the Spirit Board and JetBlue.”

Frontier did not comment immediately.

JetBlue has offered more in cash than Colorado-based Frontier’s stock and cash bid, but Spirit’s board has rebuffed JetBlue, saying that any such tie-up would face a greater likelihood of being shot down by federal antitrust regulators.

The bidding war for Miramar, Florida-based Spirit has heated up in the past few days, with JetBlue attempting to allay concerns that the U.S. would block its acquisition.

The New York airline on Monday offered a $350 million reverse break-up fee payable to Spirit if a deal between the two isn’t completed for antitrust reasons, topping its previous contingency plan by $150 million.

Last month, JetBlue went hostile in its attempt to buy Spirit, taking its offer directly to shareholders of the airline. Spirit CEO Ted Christie has said that JetBlue is more interested in breaking up a deal with Frontier than it is in owning Spirit.

Both JetBlue and Frontier say growing by acquiring Spirit would help them compete against the nation’s four dominant airlines: American, Delta, United and Southwest.

Shares of Frontier fell 3%, and JetBlue and Spirit dipped 2% in midday trading Wednesday.

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