European airline cash: new credit and state aid boosts some
This report updates CAPA's analysis of the liquidity balances of leading European airline groups.
When undrawn credit facilities, state aid and other sources of available liquidity are also included, Wizz Air still leads. However, additional sources take Finnair, easyJet and Air France-KLM ahead of Ryanair (although the latter has headroom to raise further credit if it wanted to). Norwegian remains at the bottom of the ranking.
A crucial source of airline liquidity is deferred revenue. With almost no actual revenue to book during the COVID-19 crisis, airlines have been understandably reluctant to refund cash paid in advance for cancelled flights. However, doubts over the receipt of refunds can also reduce demand for future bookings when schedules remain fragmented and uncertain.
- Wizz Air and Ryanair had the highest cash levels as percentage of 2019 revenue at the most recent balance sheet date; SAS, Aeroflot Group and Norwegian, the least.
- Wizz Air still leads, even when other available sources of funds are included.
- Finnair, easyJet and Air France-KLM move ahead of Ryanair.
- Deferred revenue is a vital source of liquidity, so airlines are reluctant to issue refunds for cancelled flights, but this can reduce demand for future bookings.
The chart below shows the balance of cash/cash equivalents for Europe's listed airline groups, based on the most recent reported numbers.
In the majority of cases this is the latest balance sheet, of date 31-Mar-2020, for most European airline groups.
Rather than ranking the airline groups according to their absolute level of cash/cash equivalents (shown in EUR millions), they are ranked by cash/cash equivalents as a percentage of 2019 revenue.
Note that this chart only includes cash/cash equivalents already on the balance sheet. It does not include additional available liquidity, for example through credit facilities that are agreed but undrawn.
Wizz Air leads, with 55% of 2019 revenue in cash at 31-Mar-2020 – the only one with more than 50%. Ryanair is close behind with 48%, while easyJet and Aegean Airlines Group also reported more than one third of 2019 revenue in cash.
Pegasus Airlines, Finnair and IAG reported figures equivalent to more than 25%, but less than 30%. Air France-KLM, Icelandair Group, Turkish Airlines and Lufthansa Group reported only mid teens percentage figures.
…SAS, Aeroflot Group and Norwegian have the least
European airline groups: cash/cash equivalents as a percentage of 2019 revenue*
Other available sources of liquidity must also be considered
Cash already on the balance sheet does not give the full picture of available liquidity.
A number of groups additionally have credit facilities available, but not yet drawn. These are, in effect, agreed overdraft facilities that can be immediately converted into cash up to the agreed amount. In some cases, loans had been agreed, but not yet drawn at the time of reporting.
There have also been instances of state aid agreed after the last balance sheet date.
In the case of Lufthansa Group, government support of EUR9 billion to Lufthansa and EUR1.4 billion (CHF1.4 billion) to SWISS has been agreed (subject to shareholder and European Commission approval, in the case of the Lufthansa support) but not yet drawn. Nevertheless, these significant sums do, in effect, add to the liquidity reported at 31-Mar-2020.
Finnair has agreed a government backed pension premium loan to the value of EUR600 million, and an undrawn short term commercial paper programme, to add to its 31-Mar-2020 cash balance.
Subsequent to its latest balance sheet report, Norwegian Group issued NOK400 million (EUR37 million) of new equity and gained access to a NOK3.0 billion (EUR275 million) government guaranteed loan (it also underwent a debt-for-equity swap, but this made no difference to its cash balance).
These new sums considerably add to the NOK2.2 billion (EUR207 million) of cash that Norwegian reported at 31-Mar-2020.
Wizz Air still leads, even when other available sources of funds are included
The following chart shows available liquidity balances, including undrawn credit facilities and other agreed (or soon to be agreed) sources of liquidity, as a percentage of 2019 revenue for Europe's listed airline groups. It also shows this as the equivalent number of days of 2019 revenue.
An earlier version of this chart was presented in a CAPA analysis report of 18-Mar-2020. The present version adds more airline groups (Icelandair, Pegasus Airlines and Aegean Airlines Group) and brings the data to the most recently reported figures.
See related report: Wizz Air & Ryanair lead Europe on liquidity for COVID-19
Wizz Air is also at the top of this ranking, as it was in the earlier version, without any additional liquidity sources beyond its balance sheet cash/cash equivalents of 55% of 2019 revenue at 31-Mar-2020.
Wizz Air CEO József Váradi told a CAPA Masterclass on 6-May-2020 that more airlines should follow his example and be "managed for cash and not just paper profit".
See related report: Wizz Air to recover in one year, vs 2-3 for airline industry - Varadi
Finnair, easyJet and Air France-KLM move ahead of Ryanair
Finnair, with its additional liquidity as noted above, moves into second place, with total available liquidity at 53% of 2019 revenue. EasyJet is third, with 52%, boosted by newly signed term loans and cash to be realised from sale and leaseback transactions.
Air France-KLM's EUR7 billion of French state aid takes it into fourth place, with 49% of revenue in total available liquidity (versus 17% based on 31-Mar-2020 balance sheet cash alone).
Ryanair, with 48% purely based on its existing balance sheet cash/cash equivalents, is fifth, ahead of Aegean with 45%.
Lufthansa Group's state aid brings its available liquidity from 12% of 2019 revenue based on balance sheet cash alone to 40% (subject to final approvals).
IAG has increased its available liquidity from EUR9.25 billion at mid Mar-2020 to EUR10.0 billion, or 39% of 2019 revenue, at 30-Apr-2020, including EUR3.6 billion of undrawn facilities.
All the remaining groups in the ranking do have additional available liquidity beyond balance sheet cash/cash equivalents.
Icelandair is boosted from 15% to 19% of revenue (through undrawn credit facilities), Aeroflot Group from 6% to 18% (undrawn credit), and SAS from 9% to 16% (credit facility guaranteed by Sweden and Denmark).
European airline groups: available liquidity as a percentage of 2019 revenue*
Deferred revenue is a vital source of liquidity
An important element in the liquidity available to airlines is deferred revenue.
The biggest part of this is sales in advance of carriage – sums received from passengers, but not booked as revenue until the flight departs.
A second element, for legacy airlines, is deferred revenue from loyalty schemes – points sold to partners, but not booked as revenue until the points are converted into flown trips; or points earned by scheme members.
For Western Europe's five leading airline groups, the value of deferred revenue shown as a liability on the balance sheet ranges from 15% of annual revenue (in the case of Air France-KLM) to 25% (in the case of Ryanair, all based on advance ticket sales), as shown in the chart below.
Western Europe's five leading airline groups: deferred revenue as a percentage of annual revenue 2019*
Airlines are reluctant to issue refunds for cancelled flights
This explains why some airlines have been slow to issue refunds for cancelled flights in the pandemic, preferring to offer alternative flights or to issue vouchers for future bookings.
Passengers have been understandably anxious to receive a refund, but airlines are understandably anxious to hold onto cash that could be the key to survival. This is particularly acute currently, when advance sales have all but dried up.
Even with some schedules beginning to expand once more, passengers are reluctant to book very far in advance until there is greater clarity on the lifting of travel restrictions and on hygiene and health safety standards in aviation to combat viral infection.
The effect of this can also be reduced demand for future bookings
Compounding the challenge is that passengers are also more reluctant to book ahead if they are uncertain of whether or not they will receive a refund if flights are cancelled.
Resolving this circular challenge will be another important factor in the recovery of demand for air travel.