The chief executive officer of Onex Corp. is reassuring shareholders it has the ability to survive the COVID-19 pandemic even though all of its businesses will likely take a hit.  

“Onex is criticized from time-to-time for having too much cash. It’s a drag on our overall return on investment to remain so liquid, as we earn very little income on our cash. With the current crisis, though, its purpose should be clear. It ensures that we can continue investing through good and bad times – it also ensures that we are never a forced seller,” Gerry Schwartz wrote in a March 25 letter to shareholders.

“So, as we make our way through the crisis, the approximately $2.8 billion ($28/share) we have in cash and near cash provides us both opportunity and comfort. We are also debt-free at Onex Corp. and our ability to maintain our dividends, to survive a crisis and to seize opportunities is not in question.”

Schwartz said he expects all of the 36 businesses that Toronto-based Onex owns in Canada, the U.S., U.K., and Europe to be impacted by the virus, with some seeing near shutdowns.

​“During that time, they will consume cash and much of that cash will be lost for all time,” Schwartz wrote. “Then, those businesses will re-open and again serve their customers and generate cash. That’s why it’s so critically important for all our businesses to have balance sheets created for sustainability.”

WestJet Airlines Ltd., which Onex acquired last year, is one of these businesses. The Calgary-based airline has already taken a massive hit due to the pandemic. It announced earlier this week it was slashing its workforce nearly in half by laying off 6,900 employees due to a suspension of its international and transborder flights.