Jet2.com is more summer-biased than almost any European airline, in spite of a capacity cut last summer. This reflects its strong leisure focus and its interdependence with the tour operator Jet2holidays. In the year to Mar-2016 Jet2holidays supplied 40% of the UK LCC's passengers, up from 17% in FY2013, since when it has been responsible for all of the airline's traffic growth.
Dart Group owns and runs both Jet2.com and Jet2holidays as the single business segment Leisure Travel (95% of group operating profit). The underlying operating profit of the Leisure Travel segment more than doubled for the year to Mar-2016, reaching the highest margin since FY2009, thanks to yield growth and increased sales of higher-end package holidays.
Strong advance sales insulate Jet2.com and Jet2holidays from the impact of Brexit in the short term. Nevertheless, their strong dependence on summer leisure demand exposes them to any volatility that may result from growing geopolitical and macroeconomic risks. Moreover, an order for 30 new Boeing 737-800s marks a departure from Jet2.com's strategy of buying and operating old aircraft that are close to being fully depreciated. This may increase the pressure on the airline to deploy its assets on a more year-round basis.
The first of Europe's big three legacy airline groups to report results for 2Q2016, Air France-KLM improved its operating margin and still expects higher operating free cash flow for FY2016. However, it remains less profitable than the other two big legacy groups, IAG and Lufthansa, and is still reluctant to give a profit target for FY2016.
Air France-KLM's commentary on the outlook implies that it now expects to make a lower profit this year than previously anticipated, even if this is likely to be higher than in 2015. In effect, this completes a full set of profit warnings from the big three legacy groups, since IAG and Lufthansa have already signalled a lowering of their profit outlook for 2016.
By contrast, LCCs have generally been more positive in their 2Q reporting and outlook (with the notable exception of easyJet). All European airlines have highlighted a weakening outlook for unit revenue, due to industry capacity growth plus geopolitical and macroeconomic risks, but low cost airlines such as Ryanair and Wizz Air appear better placed to cope with this outlook, given their lower unit costs. At this point in the cycle, new Air France-KLM CEO Jean-Marc Janaillac will need to balance growth against productivity.
Ryanair's results statement for 1Q2017 (Apr-Jun quarter) came as something of a relief for the European airline sector. The continent's leading LCC and largest airline by passenger numbers reported modest growth in profits and – more importantly – reiterated its FY2017 target of a 12% increase in annual net profit.
This came hard on the heels of a profit warning from Europe's number two LCC easyJet. Added to positive quarterly results from Norwegian and Wizz Air recently, Ryanair's announcement provides a more optimistic tone, at least for the low cost end of the market.
That said, Ryanair is also preparing the ground for a possible further weakening of an already depressed pricing environment in Europe, pointing to geopolitical uncertainties, including terrorist activity and Brexit. With a lower cost per passenger than any competitor and a very strong balance sheet, Ryanair is well placed for any airline market downturn.
Following easyJet's fall back into loss in 1H2016 (six months to Mar-2016), it still expected that the summer months would more than offset this, allowing another year of profit growth. A profit warning after the UK's Brexit vote dashed this hope in late Jun-2016. EasyJet's 3Q2016 (April to June) trading statement casts a bigger shadow over its outlook, as weak unit revenue is not being offset by unit cost reduction. According to CAPA calculations, easyJet's 3Q2016 pre-tax profit fell by 59% year on year.
European LCCs Norwegian and Wizz Air have reported improved profits for the same quarter and are on track to achieve stronger full year results, but easyJet is not alone among European airlines in lowering earnings expectations in recent weeks. IAG and Lufthansa have also issued profit warnings. Growing macroeconomic and geopolitical uncertainties are weighing on unit revenue. For some, there is no longer a sufficient release coming from lower fuel prices, which also contribute to unit revenue weakness by encouraging additional capacity.
The majority of European airlines have yet to report April-June results, most notably Ryanair, Air France-KLM and IAG. Nevertheless, the reporting season seems likely to herald a more cautious phase of the airline cycle.
Norwegian Air continued its trend of improving profitability in 2Q2016, when it marked its sixth successive quarter of year-on-year increases in its operating margin. It achieved a further gain in load factor, in spite of double-digit capacity growth. The biggest sources of its growth were its US widebody routes and its operations in Spain, where it has recently opened a seventh base at Palma de Mallorca.
To a large extent its recent positive trend of growing profits has been the result of lower fuel prices. Ex fuel unit costs have been rising for several quarters, outpacing increases in unit revenue. Norwegian has only managed to achieve margin gains because of lower fuel CASK.
Norwegian's operations should become more efficient if it received US foreign airline permits for its Irish and UK subsidiaries, although there is currently little sign that this is about to happen. A new order for 30 A321LRs (part of the A320neo family) should also help Norwegian's unit cost performance and give it more choice over aircraft deployment on shorter long haul routes.
After a period of unit revenue growth following the global financial crisis, Air Europa came under heavy pricing pressure in 2015. Renewed growth by Iberia has intensified competition to Latin America, while LCCs are putting strain on short haul yields.
Air Europa does not report profits, but it is its parent company Globalia's largest business by revenue. The privately owned Globalia group has been profitable since 2013 but suffered a fall in profits in 2015, when its Air Division's revenue declined by 3% in spite of traffic growth. The group balance sheet has low liquidity and Globalia is reportedly considering an IPO.
Widebodies now represent more than half of Air Europa's seats and 20 out of 27 outstanding orders. This reflects the importance of its Latin American network and its ambitions to continue long haul growth, as detailed in part 1 of this report. Moreover, the widebody orders are for Boeing 787s – to replace A330s, generating cost efficiency gains. CAPA estimates that Air Europa's unit cost is above that of LCCs, but closer to them than to FSCs. It has a good track record of labour productivity growth, which will be useful in its quest for further CASK reduction.
Air Europa's 28-Jun-2016 launch of a new daily Madrid-Bogota service returns the spotlight to its Latin American network. This is the airline's most important route region both by capacity and by revenue, and it remains at the heart of its future plans. Air Europa has 13 Latin American destinations – compared with Iberia's 19 – and has been linked with plans for several more.
By seat capacity on Spain-Latin America Air Europa is half as big as Iberia but its share has increased by 10ppts over the past decade, while Iberia's has fallen. Iberia was four times Air Europa's size in this market in 2006. Nevertheless, a re-energised Iberia remains a formidable competitor and there is a small, but growing, band of new entrants.
Air Europa's parent company Globalia is reportedly considering an IPO, having previously been in talks with HNA Group about a possible investment by the Chinese conglomerate. Air Europa is likely to defer plans for the launch of routes to China while it concentrates on Latin America.
Part 2 of this analysis will look at Globalia's financial track record. It will also examine Air Europa's unit revenues, fleet and unit cost positioning.
Monarch Airlines restructure 2: lower fuel, labour productivity drive return to profit. Risks remain
Part 1 of CAPA's analysis of Monarch's restructuring examined capacity cuts and the shrinking of the fleet and network. An obvious sign of success is that the Monarch Group and Monarch Airlines returned to profit in FY2015. The restructuring helped to stabilise load factor, reduce the seasonality in the business and improve its on-time performance. However, average daily aircraft utilisation continued to fall and load factor has fallen again in the first part of FY2016.
Part 2 of CAPA's analysis examines how the restructuring improved Monarch's financial performance. The return to profit by the UK LCC was driven both by a rise in unit revenue and a fall in unit cost – that cost itself helped by lower fuel prices and improved labour productivity.
Looking ahead, Monarch's Boeing 737MAX deliveries from 2018 should benefit the bottom line. However, in the meantime leisure-focused markets face considerable volatility from geopolitical and macroeconomic uncertainties, not helped by the UK's recent Brexit vote. Although back in profit, Monarch still needs shareholder support to fund its liquidity needs and there have been some reports – denied by the airline – that its owners may be considering a sale. The restructuring now gives it a base from which to address its challenges.
The privately owned Monarch Group no longer publishes a glossy annual report for all to see, a practice that has been discontinued since its 2014 acquisition by turnaround specialists Greybull Capital. Such reticence is sometimes a sign of having something to hide. Not so here; the group's statutory accounts for the year ended Oct-2015 were recently filed with the UK's Companies House. They show a strong return to profit for the Monarch Group, whose largest business is Monarch Airlines.
In the previous year, FY2014, the airline had grown too rapidly and plunged into a heavy loss, while the Monarch Group had almost run out of cash. A subsequent restructuring programme, devised by the management and backed by the new shareholders, sought to restore profitability. The FY2015 accounts demonstrate the success of the restructuring, which involved capacity cuts (mainly in the summer), fleet reduction, withdrawal from charter and long haul flying, a shrinking of the workforce and new labour contracts. With profits restored, Monarch is now growing once more.
This first part of CAPA's analysis of Monarch's restructuring examines the changes to its capacity, schedule network and fleet. Part 2 will consider its improved financial results and future prospects.
At the ACI 26th General Assembly in Athens on 21-Jun-2016 the European Commission's DG Competition Henrik Mørch said that the EC has generally approved JVs but is closely watching consolidation trends. As reported in a CAPA news brief, Mr Mørch said that the EC is interested in how much consolidation can be justified with efficiency gains for the consumer.
He added that, while the European aviation market is more fragmented than the American market, taking the level of consolidation that exists in the US and applying it to Europe is "not necessarily something we would advocate for...there's too little competition in the American market in our view".
However, the level of concentration on the North Atlantic, the principal market where JVs have been approved by the Commission, is greater than in North America – the market that Mr Mørch considers too concentrated. Meanwhile, European fragmentation weighs heavily on its airlines' yields and holds back their profitability.
The British exit from the European Union will have a negative impact on UK air traffic as a result of weaker GBP – an immediate effect – and a weaker GDP outlook. Air freight is also likely to be negatively affected by lower levels of international trade. The impact on air traffic is also likely to be felt in the rest of Europe, while economists are also warning that Brexit adds to the uncertainties facing the global economy.
European airline share prices have been hard hit since the UK referendum result was announced early on 24-Jun-2016, particularly those of easyJet and British Airways' parent IAG. This reflects the likely lowering of demand, but also the significant regulatory uncertainty surrounding the sector, particularly with respect to market access.
UK membership of the European Common Aviation Area would preserve existing market access and is the expected route. However, UK political turmoil and question marks concerning its ongoing commitment to EU principles may compromise its access in the future. Profit warnings from IAG and easyJet point to at least a slowing of profit growth. It is difficult to see the world airline profit cycle continuing the upswing of recent years.
From 2009 to 2015 SWISS accounted for 47% of the operating profits produced by all the airlines in the Lufthansa Passenger Airline Group, and 29% for the Lufthansa Group overall. It has also consistently been the Group's most profitable airline in margin terms. In 2015 it even managed to post a higher margin than Lufthansa's MRO business – traditionally a much more robust and profitable activity than most airlines.
Nevertheless, SWISS seems now to be struggling to maintain these achievements. Its passenger load factor, while still the highest in the group, is on the decline. Revenue is falling and SWISS suffered a drop in margin in 1Q2016. The seasonally weak 1Q may not say too much about prospects for the full year, but Lufthansa expects SWISS to report a slightly lower adjusted EBIT in 2016 relative to 2015.
With four new Boeing 777-300ER aircraft now in SWISS' long haul fleet and the first Bombardier C Series due to join its short haul fleet imminently, SWISS is not standing still.