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Slowing demand and rising costs squeeze airline profits with Middle East airlines showing loss

Posted 4 June 2019 · Add Comment

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) announced a downgrade of its 2019 outlook for the global air transport industry to a $28 billion profit (from $35.5 billion forecast in December 2018).

 

That is also a decline on 2018 net post-tax profits which IATA estimates at $30 billion.

The business environment for airlines has deteriorated with rising fuel prices and a substantial weakening of world trade. In 2019 overall costs are expected to grow by 7.4%, outpacing a 6.5% rise in revenues. As a result, net margins are expected to be squeezed to 3.2% (from 3.7% in 2018). Profit per passenger will similarly decline to $6.12 (from $6.85 in 2018).

Middle Eastern airlines will deliver a combined net loss of $1.1 billion (slightly worse than the $1.0 billion loss in 2018). That equates to a $5.01 loss per passenger and a negative net margin (-1.9%). The region has faced substantial challenges in recent years, both to the business environment and to business models. Airlines there are going through a process of adjustment and announced schedules point to a substantial slowdown in capacity growth in 2019. Performance is now improving but the worsening in the business environment is expected to prolong losses in 2019.

“This year will be the tenth consecutive year in the black for the airline industry. But margins are being squeezed by rising costs right across the board—including labor, fuel, and infrastructure. Stiff competition among airlines keeps yields from rising. Weakening of global trade is likely to continue as the US-China trade war intensifies. This primarily impacts the cargo business, but passenger traffic could also be impacted as tensions rise. Airlines will still turn a profit this year, but there is no easy money to be made,” said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s Director General and CEO.

In 2019, the return on invested capital earned from airlines is expected to be 7.4% (down from 7.9% in 2018). While this still exceeds the average cost of capital (estimated at 7.3%), the buffer is extremely thin. Moreover, the job of spreading financial resilience throughout the industry is only half complete with a major gap in profitability between the performance of airlines in North America, Europe and Asia-Pacific and the performance of those in Africa, Latin America and the Middle East.

“The good news is that airlines have broken the boom-and-bust cycle. A downturn in the trading environment no longer plunges the industry into a deep crisis. But under current circumstances, the great achievement of the industry—creating value for investors with normal levels of profitability is at risk. Airlines will still create value for investors in 2019 with above cost-of-capital returns, but only just,” said de Juniac.

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