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Wizz Air is a low-cost carrier based mainly in Budapest but has hubs throughout Eastern Europe, including Gdańsk, Katowice and Belgrade. The airline has seen rapid growth since its 2004 inception, and is Central Europe's largest LCC. Wizz Air operates on over 150 routes across Europe, using predominantly secondary airports, and is continuously looking at opportunities to expand its network of destinations and provide low-cost air transport to and from Central and Eastern Europe.
Location of Wizz Air main hub (Budapest Ferenc Liszt International Airport)
Wizz Air Holdings Plc share price
LCCs will continue to evolve into hybrids of the original core model. CAPA and OAG consider Wizz Air fits the LCC profile and it is included in our reporting on this basis. Please note: when reporting for an airline is changed from or to LCC the historical data is not affected and it can lead to a distortion in the current reported data. Contact us if you have any queries.
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The last of Europe's stock market-listed airlines recently reported financial results for 2014, providing the opportunity to compare levels of profitability. Ranking them by operating margin, there is a wide range of performance from healthy double digit to negative figures.
LCCs typically performed better than legacy airlines. Most of the higher margin airlines improved in 2014, while most of those at the lower end of the scale suffered a fall in margins. Convergence of business models does not show itself in convergence of financial performance.
Beyond the listed airlines, Europe has a large number of mainly small and unprofitable airlines, which drag down the aggregate margin of the continent's airline sector. Europe's traffic growth and load factors are relatively healthy by world standards, but its margins are held back by its fragmented market structure.
During 2014 a quiet revolution took place in an aviation backwater of Central and Southeast Europe - namely Serbia and in particular Belgrade’s Nikola Tesla Airport.
After recording 5.3% passenger growth in 2013 a figure of almost 32% was achieved at Belgrade in 2014, leaving the neighbouring and much bigger capital city airports at Vienna, Prague and Budapest in the shade, even allowing for the low base figure at the Serbian capital.
This growth was unexpected is and quite surprising given Serbia’s recent political and economic history and the fact that growth has not come specifically from the LCC segment, which is the usual source for ‘secondary’ level airports in Europe. It raises the possibility of Belgrade actually competing with these (regional) giants for pre-eminence throughout an area that is growing in economic significance.
Wizz Air CEO Josef Varadi told a recent meeting of the Aviation Club in London that he ran a very disciplined airline. "We never grow for growth's sake", he said, explaining that the airline had clear financial targets and that growth was an output from this process.
Earlier this year, Wizz Air pulled out of a planned initial public offering (IPO) of its shares, which would have seen it floated on the London Stock Exchange. Investor appetite was dulled by geopolitical issues, a fuel price spike and profit warnings from other airlines, rather than any problems at the airline itself. Indeed, its most recent accounts show that it is now one of Europe's most profitable airlines, with significant cash reserves. An IPO could come back onto the agenda, but, Mr Varadi said, "we are not desperate".
Its results have not always been strong in the 10 years since its 2004 launch, but our analysis of its accounts suggests that it is now on a firm footing, supporting Mr Varadi's claim that "financial performance is at the core of the airline – we are not doing it for charity".
LOT Polish Airlines CEO Sebastian Mikosz said recently that profitability must be developed through passenger retention, expansion of its customer base and the introduction of new options for travel, services and comfort (Future Travel Experience, 20-Jun-2014). Its recent focus has been on the restructuring plan submitted last year to the European Union, involving cuts to capacity and costs.
LOT awaits final approval from the EU for its restructuring plan, which was required in connection with state aid provided by the Polish government in Dec-2012. The airline has said that it will not consider a second tranche of state aid before Sep-2014. It needs EU approval before it can decide its longer term future, including the possibility of seeking new investors, although it has reportedly started to develop a new five year strategic plan. Meanwhile, the privatisation process has gone very quiet.
Mr Mikosz is right to plan for the post restructuring world, but is faced with the need also to continue to make LOT's cost base more competitive against the LCCs that operate the majority of seats in the Polish market.
IATA's latest airline industry financial forecasts highlight the different performance of the different regions of the world. North America is the most profitable region, measured by its net margin (net profit as a percentage of revenues) and Africa the least profitable. Europe has the second lowest margin, but has gained a little on fourth ranked Asia Pacific. Latin America has improved the most since 2012 to rank second, just ahead of the Middle East.
North America has had a relatively good recovery, while Asia Pacific's margins have fallen from their 2010 peak. Even North America's net profit is only 4.3% of revenues, its best since the late 1990s, but still a very thin margin.
Analysis of the relationship between net profit margins and various explanatory factors appears to confirm that market concentration is a key one. Europe's perennial underperformance in airline margin terms – in spite of the region's wealth, high propensity for air travel and high load factors – owes much to the fragmented nature of the market. Nevertheless, a European deal that is truly transformational in terms of its market structure remains unlikely for now.
The Wizz Air Group has announced its intention to float on the London Stock Exchange. CAPA suggested this was under consideration in a report in Apr-2013 and the company has been mulling it over for years. The decision had no 'whiz' about it, but now may well be a suitable point in its history for a public listing.
The IPO prospectus is not yet available, but we have updated our analysis of the available data. This shows that Wizz Air has now established a firmer platform of profitability from which to attract investors and has consolidated its position as Europe's second lowest cost carrier.
One of its biggest challenges is that Europe's lowest cost airline, Ryanair, is also Wizz Air's closest competitor. Wizz Air's recent growth and profitability suggest that this has not deterred it and it has continued to focus on its niche in Central/Eastern Europe. An IPO will strengthen Wizz Air's under-capitalised balance sheet and expand its aircraft funding options. It will also further raise its profile and should add to its already strong focus on cost efficiency.