Benefiting both from a large and growing home market and from its strategy to increase transfer traffic, Turkish Airlines (THY) continues to achieve double digit growth in traffic and revenues. Nevertheless, THY reported a year on year drop in its operating profit in 2Q2014 for the fourth successive quarter (although net profit increased due to non-operating items). It was also the fifth successive quarter to suffer a fall in unit revenue (RASK, expressed in USc).
Although it has an efficient cost structure by FSC standards, it has struggled in recent quarters to lower CASK enough to offset downward pressure on RASK. In this report, we put THY's recent quarterly results performance into a more strategic perspective by looking at its strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.
Finnair improved its load factor in 2Q2014 after a dip in 1Q and made further progress with its cost reduction programme. It has reached agreement with many employee groups over further cost efficiencies, but did not reach full agreement with flight attendants. Management's consequent decision to begin implementing plans to outsource part of its cabin services activities displays a commendable resolve to achieve the necessary savings.
Nevertheless, in the words of CEO Pekka Vauramo, "the second quarter of 2014 was difficult".
Weak market conditions meant that unit revenue declined more rapidly than unit costs and the airline fell into loss in 2Q2014. It now expects a significant operational loss for FY2014, which would mean a second year of falling results.
Pegasus Airlines' fourth successive fall in underlying quarterly profit, but perhaps turned a corner
Although Turkish LCC Pegasus Airlines reported a year on year increase in 2Q net profit, the underlying operating result was less than the same period last year. This was the fourth successive quarter of year on year declines in the underlying operating result.
Reading Pegasus' results is complicated by foreign exchange movements, since the majority of its revenues and, particularly, its costs are denominated in hard currency (mainly EUR and USD). Expressed in EUR terms, rather than in Pegasus' reporting currency of TRY, Pegasus lowered its CASK (cost per available seat km) in 2Q, but enough to compensate for the drop in RASK (revenue per available seat km).
Nevertheless, Pegasus reiterated its FY2014 guidance amid some signs that it may have turned a corner and be ready to leave the path of deteriorating margins.
In 2013, Brussels Airlines narrowed its losses, mainly as a result of cost reduction, with labour productivity making real improvements. However, unit revenues fell last year reflecting a soft market environment.
Downward pressure on pricing looks likely to intensify in 2014: Brussels Airlines is accelerating its capacity growth, particularly on its long-haul (African) network, and its hub has seen the entry of LCCs Vueling and Ryanair. Its previous target of returning to profit in 2014 may now be in doubt.
Meanwhile (and as predicted by CAPA), Lufthansa allowed its call option over the 55% of Brussels Airlines that it does not already own to lapse in Apr-2014.
Air Europa's seat capacity will be 13% higher in 2014 than in 2013, according to OAG data. In spite of strong recent growth, however, it is still only the sixth biggest airline in Spain by seat numbers, with a share of just over 5%. Its strongest network region is Latin America, where its 23% share puts it second only to Iberia and where it is growing most rapidly.
As we highlighted in our 5-Aug-2014 analysis of Air Europa, a number of key financial indicators improved in 2013. Although its profit recovery may be a little ahead of that of its rival Iberia, the latter is also moving into a more confident phase after years of losses and restructuring.
With competition between Air Europa and Iberia intensifying on long-haul and LCCs continuing to increase their share of the Spanish market on short-haul, we take an analytical look at Air Europa's network and strategic positioning.
IAG's recent announcement that Iberia is to receive 16 new widebodies marks a shift of emphasis for Iberia from internal restructuring towards a new competitive growth phase. Rival Air Europa has taken advantage of Iberia's capacity cuts in recent years to pursue international growth, particularly to Latin America. Parent company Globalia does not report profits for Air Europa, but the group's annual report shows 2013 was very successful for increased revenues, load factor and RASK. It also saw Globalia's return to profit, while Iberia was still posting losses in 2013. Moreover, Air Europa already has its own widebody order (eight Boeing 787-8s and options for eight more).
However, Iberia returned to profit in 1H2014 and its CEO Luis Gallego is relaxed about competing with Air Europa, saying Iberia is "three times [its] size at [Madrid Airport] and twice its size in Spain" and can now "compete with anyone" thanks to its new cost structure (Europa Press/Preferente, 22-Jun-2014).
This analysis of the available data on Air Europa's traffic and financial performance will be followed by our updated analysis of its strategic positioning.
International Airlines Group (IAG)'s 2Q2014 results revealed another strong improvement and 1H2014 recorded the first positive operating result for IAG since 2011. Unit revenues were under pressure and so the profit improvement was achieved by unit cost reductions.
All three of IAG's operating airlines - British Airways, Iberia and Vueling - improved their 2Q operating profit year on year, with BA and Iberia also recording higher margins.
Recognising the progress made by Iberia, which returned to operating profit in 2Q and 1H, IAG has announced that the Spanish airline will see 16 new wide bodies enter its fleet from 2015 to 2020 to replace A340 aircraft. A year ago, CAPA suggested that IAG might have reached a turning point. Its results since then, and its reiteration of its profit targets, appear to confirm that this was the case as it has outperformed its major European rivals Lufthansa and Air France-KLM.
After reporting 1Q results that were modestly better than last year before one-off costs, Lufthansa Group's 2Q2014 results show a deterioration in its underlying profits. Weaker revenues, especially in Asia Pacific and on the North Atlantic and in the cargo segment, and the effect of strikes and the Venezuelan currency devaluation weighed on the 2Q figures.
These factors were flagged by the company last month when it lowered its 2014 and 2015 operating profit targets and the reduced targets are unchanged. The group has reiterated its previous unit cost reduction target and so the lower profit outlook is entirely due to the revenue environment.
Aer Lingus grew its 2Q2014 EBIT by one third as strong trading helped to offset the impact of strike action (actual and planned). Double digit capacity growth on the North Atlantic, reflecting new routes and increased frequencies, was the main driver of revenue growth.
Although Aer Lingus estimates a strike-related forward booking gap of EUR10 million into 2H2014, current trading is healthy and late summer forward bookings have seen some recovery. This has prompted the company to restore its previous guidance that FY2014 EBIT will be at least in line with last year, after lowering it in Jun-2014 due to the industrial action.
Nevertheless, the future growth and sustainability of profits will require cost savings and Aer Lingus' CORE programme will be vital. The industrial relations backdrop remains difficult, not least because of the lack of a full resolution to the pension funding issue. Discussions on this have been ongoing for most of CEO Christoph Mueller's five year tenure. His departure in May-2015 was recently announced and he will surely not want to bequeath this issue to his successor.
Ryanair increased its profits substantially in 1QFY2015, as revenue per seat grew faster than cost per seat. By comparison with the same quarter a year earlier, revenues and profits were assisted by the inclusion of Easter in 1Q this year, but the underlying trends still looked favourable.
In spite of its caution over the outlook for average fares in 2H, Ryanair has raised its profit guidance for FY2015, based on higher traffic and load factors and lower cost per passenger than previously expected.
This is in contrast with its profit warning last autumn (and with more recent profit warnings from a number of European legacy carriers) and gives some comfort that its strategic shift to increase the emphasis on customer service may be starting to work.
Air France-KLM's recovery continued with another year on year improvement in quarterly results in 2Q2014, mainly because it cut unit costs more quickly than the fall in unit revenues. Following its early Jul-2014 profit warning, it has made no further changes to its FY2014 EBITDA target, which remains EUR2.2-2.3 billion, and it continues to target net debt of EUR4.5 billion at the end of 2015 (versus EUR5.4 billion at the end of Jun-2014).
On the strategic front, Air France-KLM is accelerating the growth of its Transavia LCC subsidiary, although this unit is still loss-making, and is re-grouping its Air France point to point and Hop regional operations into a single business unit. In addition, it is examining further reductions to its full-freighter fleet, beyond those previously announced.
Air France-KLM is also working on its next five year strategic plan, to follow its Transform 2015 restructuring plan. To be unveiled in Sep-2014, the "Perform 2020" plan will focus on growth and competitiveness.
easyJet's reported revenue growth of 8.6% for 3QFY2014 (i.e. Apr-2014 to Jun-2014), is an acceleration on 1H's 6.3%, with further growth in revenue per seat. However, load factors are already at industry-leading levels throughout the year and easyJet will probably need to focus more on revenue per passenger if it is to continue to see continued growth in revenue per seat. In 3Q, it experienced a rare (and slight) dip in revenue per passenger. To some extent, the change in the timing of Easter distorts year on year comparison for 3Q, but the airline's new FY2014 guidance implies a modest fall in revenue per seat in 4Q.
Strong capacity growth by easyJet at Gatwick, due to the acquisition of slots from Flybe, and a competitive environment of increasing capacity growth are making themselves felt in this modest yield weakness.
Nevertheless, easyJet's unit costs were lower than previously expected and it has a significant cost advantage versus legacy carriers at the primary airports on which its network focuses. Moreover, its FY2014 guidance implies another year of double digit profit growth and return on capital above the cost of capital.