China’s Ministry of Finance has requested the nation’s state-owned enterprises (SOEs) to hand over an additional 5% of their profit after tax to the central government in 2011 (People’s Daily, 30-Dec-2010). In 2011, Air China and China Southern Airlines will be required to transfer 10% of their profit after tax to the ministry, up from 5% in 2010. China’s SOEs are expected to report a profit of CNY1 trillion (USD151 billion) in 2010, according to the State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission.
China's SOEs requested to hand over 5% more profit in 2011
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China Southern Airlines deflects yield pressure concerns. Long haul focus shifts to North America
China Southern Airlines may be Asia's largest airline, but it has one of the smallest long haul networks. China Southern has shifted growth to international markets, which represented only 17% of capacity in 2009 but doubled to 34% in 2016. Its long haul plank has been Australia and New Zealand, funnelling traffic from around China down to its southern hub at Guangzhou. China Southern has met its objectives for Australia/NZ and now turns its focus to the market that has preoccupied most other Northeast Asian airlines: North America.
China Southern plans to increase flights from five daily to 11 daily, about the size that ANA is today – and larger than Air China and China Eastern. Although China Southern can build on the principle of using Guangzhou as a North-South hub, North America is a radically different proposition. Guangzhou's southern positioning limits exposure to the Chinese market that China Southern knows best. China Southern will need to target connections to Southeast Asia and India, which have only been a small component of Air China and China Eastern's network.
Chinese long haul secondary city air routes: BA's Chengdu exit does not reflect the broader market
The fastest long haul airline growth is not occurring with Gulf airlines but rather, with services to and from secondary Chinese cities. It is not a secret that local incentives and subsidies, generally common in any market, are especially large in price and duration for secondary Chinese cities. An airline might expect over a third of revenues to be subsidised. This drastically alters the business case in a low-margin industry, hence the proliferation of secondary city services. This extreme dependence on subsidies raises the question of how long governments are willing to issue generous subsidies, and how many routes can be sustainable without them.
British Airways' decision to exit its only secondary Chinese route to Chengdu, in Jan-2017, might suggest the music is ending and the secondary long haul bubble is popping. There is added colour given the recent UK-China air service agreement expansion, and Brexit/British pound depreciation overhangs.
BA's exit does confirm market fundamentals: secondary city yields are low, and some routes are ahead of their time. Yet a number of factors unique to British Airways suggest caution in concluding that BA's Chengdu exit could foreshadow other withdrawals.