The outlook for the normally buoyant Asian market has further dimmed following a rare quarterly loss for Singapore Airlines (SIA). The SIA Group’s first net loss since the global economic crisis of 2008 could be seen partially as an indication of its weakening market position. But in reality it is probably more indicative of the broader challengers facing Asia’s full-service airline sector.
SIA has reported for the three months ending 31-Mar-2011 (4QFY2012) a group operating loss of SGD5 million (USD4 million) compared to an operating profit of SGD166 million (USD132 million) for the same period last year. The group’s net loss for 4QFY2012 came in at SGD38 million (USD30 million), compared to a profit of SGD171 million (USD136 million) the previous year. SIA was widely expected to report a decline in profits for the sixth consecutive quarter, but the small loss – the first since 2QFY2010 – came as an unpleasant surprise.
Incessantly high fuel costs and an unwelcome increase in employee expenditure, highlighting the urging need to restructure workforce productivity and pay, pushed Air France-KLM Group into a deeper loss for 1Q2012 despite a surprising rise in passenger unit revenue and buoyant passenger traffic. Operating loss for the first three months widened almost 50% from EUR403 million to EUR597 million in the year-ago period. Air France-KLM’s net loss remained flat at EUR368 million but benefitted from a one-off gain of EUR98 million relating to the sale of a stake in Amadeus.
Air France-KLM is not Europe’s only airline group to report worsening 1Q2012 results. Lufthansa Group, Europe’s largest airline group, has posted a EUR381 million operating loss for the first three months of 2012, compared to a EUR169 million operating loss posted in 1Q2011 and announced it will cut 3500 full-time jobs in administrative departments worldwide over the coming years as part of its SCORE programme. SAS Group also has reported a 1Q2012 net loss of SEK729 million (EUR82 million), doubling its 1Q2011 net deficit of SEK373 million (EUR42 million).
Persistently high fuel costs and challenges in a passenger system information technology cutover pushed United Airlines into a loss for 1Q2012 as its unit revenues lagged behind US legacy peers. Forecasts for the month of Apr-2012 show the lacklustre revenue performance continuing before heading into May-2012 when comparisons become increasingly difficult due to numerous fare increases pushed through in 2011. Despite the weak performance relative to the rest of the US airline industry, United remains confident it is taking the right steps through its merger with Continental Airlines to remain competitive over the long term. But for the moment the carrier is not disclosing a timetable of when it might close the unit revenue gap with its industry peers.
Special charges related to the passenger service system cutover in March and other integration expenses pushed United to a 1Q USD448 million loss compared with a loss of USD213 million the year prior. The cutover was the final step in combining United and Continental, and now that it is complete the Continental name has been retired.
Despite 1Q loss, Delta is bullish on profitability as it strengthens hubs and cuts Atlantic capacity
Delta Air Lines intends to improve this year on the USD1.2 billion profit it posted in 2011 despite recording a pre-tax USD36 million loss 1Q2012. The carrier believes strong demand and revenue trends will continue throughout 2012, allowing it to recoup increases in fuel expenditure that rose USD250 million during the first three months of 2012.
The pre-tax loss was a USD355 million year-on-year improvement of Delta’s 1Q2011 results, driven by a strong revenue performance despite headlines of a spreading recession in Europe and the uncertain ripple effects of the continent’s economic woes. Factoring in USD136 million in special items, including the favourable settlement of fuel hedges and a USD39 million gain from the settlement of its airport slot swap with US Airways, Delta recorded a USD163 million profit. Its net loss excluding those items was USD39 million.
A first quarter loss at Southwest Airlines was accompanied by a better-than-expected result in the carrier’s unit cost performance driven in part by labour productivity improvements. The carrier is striking a cautiously optimistic tone regarding the rest of the year, indicating it should record a favourable financial performance if fuel prices remain at current levels. But until Southwest completes the integration of AirTran Airways into its operations by 2014, the carrier will be constrained in reaching its full revenue potential.
Favourable gains on the settling of certain fuel hedge contracts helped Southwest to record a first quarter profit of USD98 million. But excluding special items the carrier’s loss was USD18 million compared with a USD20 million profit the year prior. The airline’s operating income tumbled USD100 million to USD10 million as the carrier recorded fuel and oil expense of USD1.5 billion, a 45.5% rise from 1Q2011. On a combined basis with AirTran, Southwest’s operating revenue was USD86 million.
Following Etihad’s first annual profit, the Abu Dhabi-based airline reported revenue jumped 28% year-on-year for the three months to 31-Mar-2012, to a record USD989 million.
The increase corresponds to a 27.4% surge in passenger traffic in the quarter, up by just over half a million passengers, indicating Etihad is growing revenue very slightly ahead of capacity growth. Etihad Airways added new services to Tripoli, Shanghai and Nairobi during the quarter, with passenger numbers reaching 2,360,000.
The Lufthansa Group has reported a positive overall result for 2011 with an operating profit of EUR820 million. But this represents a EUR200 million drop in operating profits compared to 2010 as the airline dealt with weaker economic conditions within the EU, rising fuel prices and increasing regulatory pressures through environmental taxation. 2012 will see the Group search for synergies and cost savings under its 'SCORE' programme, and increased attention will be paid to Austrian Airlines as it attempts to return to profitability through restructuring.
Lufthansa Group’s revenue in 2011 rose 8.6% to EUR28.7 billion. The Group incurred a net loss of EUR13 million but this was driven by a EUR285 million loss “from discontinued operations”. This resulted from the Group’s sale of bmi to the International Consolidated Airlines Group (IAG) in late Dec-2011.
Cathay Pacific’s financials in 2011 were never going to compare well to a fantastic 2010. Headline revenue were up 9.9%, but net profits fell 60.8% and profit margin dived 10.1 ppts to 5.6% from the previous year’s record 15.7%. Cathay cited the the instability of the global economy, the weakness of the air cargo market, the reduction of yields in economy class, the impact of natural disasters in Japan and Thailand, unrest in the Middle East and continued high jet fuel prices for the result – and predicted tougher times in 2012.
But in the circumstances, and relative to its peers, Cathay is performing well and is an extremely well managed airline. Over the past three years, management has reduced unit costs per ATK by 9.2%. Singapore Airlines has seen a 0.5% increase over the same period.
Air France-KLM has reported an operating loss of EUR353 million for 2011, a significant turnaround from its 2010 profit of EUR28 million - and follows Lufthansa's 18% year-on-year decline in operating profit to EUR820 million last year. This has been a difficult year for the Franco-Dutch airline group, as it battled rising fuel prices and uncertainty across many of its markets. The start of 2012 saw the Group launch ‘Transform 15’, its turnaround programme aimed at restoring profitability. The 2011 loss emphasises the need for this programme to deliver results, given a continuing uncertain outlook as Europe's economic troubles persist amid high fuel prices.
The Group’s revenue was unable to absorb rising fuel expenses; although total revenues increased by 4.5% year-on-year to EUR24.36 billion, operating costs rose 6.2% to EUR24.72 billion. Fuel expenses alone surged 16.3% year-on-year.
International Consolidated Airlines Group (IAG) reported a strong FY2011 result with profit more than doubling year-on-year despite its fuel expense increasing nearly 30%. British Airways led the strong result while Iberia still struggled. The 2012 outlook for the Group remains uncertain due to weak European markets and labour unrest in addition to rising fuel expenses.
IAG reported full year operating profit of EUR485 million and net profit of EUR527 million. Fuel expenses rose 29.7% to EUR5.1 billion. Passenger revenue outgrew capacity increases with 11% higher revenue and capacity increase of 7.1%. Unit passenger revenue rose 3.6% with overall unit revenue up 3.1% while premium traffic saw good growth of 5.7% and outgrew non-premium revenue growth. Despite increases on the passenger side of the business, cargo revenue remained constant.