Air Canada’s 1Q2017 margin pressure and lower ROIC targets trigger market trepidation

Canada’s largest airline, Air Canada, is working through a multi year effort to grow its international footprint and cut costs. The company’s strategy has entailed higher than average capacity growth compared with its North American global network airline peers. Its long haul push has resulted in growing stage lengths and yield pressure; but Air Canada’s EBITDAR margin, the preferred metric in which the company measures its performance, has remained well within its established targets.

The company’s capacity should continue to expand in the double digit range during 2017 as it adds more Boeing 787 widebody jets and plans additional new route introductions. Its stage length should continue to grow in 2017, which means yields will remain under pressure. Air Canada’s capacity growth should moderate in 2018 as several initiatives it has undertaken during the last few years reach maturity.

Air Canada has been reasonably successful in growing its valuation during its large scale capacity growth, but a downward revision in ROIC targets and warnings of lower EBITDAR margins for 1Q2017 are triggering some pressure on its stock price. For now, markets are not quite reassured by Air Canada’s pledges that it will still meet its stated annual EBITDAR margins in 2017.

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