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IAG faces challenge to maintain momentum in financial performance

IAG is arguably the most financially focused European airline group in terms of the way it motivates and monitors its own performance. It is no coincidence, then, that its financial performance is now consistently stronger than that of the Lufthansa Group and Air France-KLM (although none are as profitable as the leading LCCs, such as Ryanair). IAG's financial discipline is helping to rehabilitate the airline sector's reputation with professional investors.

In 2016 IAG achieved an operating margin and return on invested capital that were, once more, its best ever. This marked its strong recovery in the years since the global financial crisis (which hit it hard), and consolidated its leadership among Europe's big three legacy airline groups. Only Vueling among the group's constituent airlines suffered from falling returns. IAG shareholders are to be rewarded with a share buyback (IAG's first, and still rare among European airlines) and an increased dividend.

However, by its own standards of success, IAG has more to do. It is not yet meeting its own margin and return on capital targets –partly because it likes to increase them when they come within reach. Its challenge will be to maintain its momentum as the airline cycle's upswing starts to fade.

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