SYDNEY (Reuters) – As Virgin Australia shrinks to survive the pandemic, tiny Regional Express Holdings Ltd (Rex)

is picking up some of its larger rival’s planes and staff on the cheap – and attracting investors who see profit in the high-stakes plan.

A Boeing Co

737 leasing deal announced on Wednesday is the latest step in Rex’s gamble to take on Qantas Airways Ltd

and Virgin starting with Sydney-Melbourne, the world’s fifth-busiest domestic route before the pandemic.

The move by Rex, until now an operator of ageing 30-36 seat turboprops, is a rare example of an airline expanding into new markets as the pandemic cripples air travel.

Shares in Rex and charter operator Alliance Aviation Services Ltd

have risen this year as investors look for counter-cyclical growth stories. Rex’s shares reached a one-year high on Thursday.

Graphic – Regional carriersĀ Regional Express and Alliance Aviation are outperforming larger peers as they undertake counter-cyclical expansion plans: https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/ce/bdwvkkyqqvm/AustraliaRegionalAviation.png

Rex entered the pandemic with a licence, little debt, a paid-off fleet and no planes on order. Last week it signed a term sheet with Asian investment firm PAG Asia Capital for up to A$150 million ($106.23 million) of convertible notes to pay for service to big cities, funds Rex Deputy Chairman John Sharp told Reuters will be kept separate from its government-subsidised regional operations.

But even with those advantages and the ability to sign cut-rate contracts, analysts say Rex faces formidable odds in competing against larger players. Those well-established brands have strong loyalty programmes, more frequent flights and fancier airport lounges, and will scramble to win back share as demand recovers.

“They are really poking the bear here,” Rico Merkert, a professor of transport at the University of Sydney Business School, said of Rex. “Qantas will do everything they can to defend their

LONDON (Reuters) – Bank of England Governor Andrew Bailey said the central bank was realistic about the challenges negative interest rates would pose for the banking system, but repeated he was not ruling them out as a way to help Britain’s economy.

Bailey said the big share of retail deposits – which have tended to continue offering positive rates to investors even in countries which have cut rates below zero – in Britain’s banking system could reduce the effectiveness of any BoE negative rates.

“That does not mean to say that we rule out using negative interest rates for a moment,” Bailey said in an online speech given to Queen’s University Belfast on Tuesday.

“It means to say we are realistic enough, I think, to know that the transmission mechanism would be affected.”

Sterling jumped by half a cent against the U.S. dollar on Bailey’s comments before falling back.

Investors have been trying to work out the likelihood of the BoE following the lead of the European Central Bank and the Bank of Japan, as well as other central banks, and taking rates below zero for the first time.

The BoE said this month it would look during the fourth quarter at how it might be able to implement negative rates if needed, building on an announcement in August that the option was part of its toolbox.

Deputy Governor Dave Ramsden said on Monday he thought the floor for the central bank’s key interest rate remained at its current level of 0.1%.

But another interest rate setter, Silvana Tenreyro, said in a weekend newspaper interview that the BoE’s investigation into whether negative rates might help the economy had found “encouraging” evidence.

Bailey reiterated that the BoE had not reached a judgement on whether or when to use sub-zero rates for

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