By Chinedu Eze
The outgoing Director General and CEO of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), Tony Tyler has announced that member airlines would earn about $39.4 billion this year.
Speaking at the opening of the 72nd IATA Annual General Meeting in Dublin, Tyler explained that airlines would earn more this year than initially projected.
In December 2015, it was predicted that airlines would earn $36.3 billion in 2016 but indication showed that the earnings would increase to the aforementioned which is expected to be generated on revenues of $709 billion for an aggregate net profit margin of 5.6 percent.
The year 2016 is expected to be the fifth consecutive year of improving aggregate industry profits; however, but African airlines would lose $0.5 billion during the period.
Tyler said in 2015, airlines generated a global aggregate profit of $35.3 billion (re-stated from $33.0 billion estimated in December 2015).
He said over half of the industry profits will be generated in North America ($22.9 billion) while African carriers are forecast to continue generating an overall loss (-$0.5 billion), adding that lower oil prices spurred the profit.
“Lower oil prices are certainly helping—though tempered by hedging and exchange rates. In fact, we are probably nearing the peak of the positive stimulus from lower prices. Performance, however, is being bolstered by the hard work of airlines. Load factors are at record levels. New value streams are increasing ancillary revenues. And joint ventures and other forms of cooperation are improving efficiency and increasing consumer choice while fostering robust competition. The result: consumers are getting a great deal and investors are finally beginning to see the rewards they deserve,” said Tyler
He said on average, airlines would make $10.42 for each passenger carried.
“In Dublin, that’s enough to buy four double-espressos at Starbucks. Looked at from a different angle Starbucks will earn about $11 for every $100 in sales while airlines will make $5.60. We don’t begrudge Starbucks their profitability. But there is clearly still upside for airline profits,” said Tyler.
He disclosed that for the second year in a row and only the second time in the airline industry’s history, the return on invested capital (9.8 percent) would exceed the cost of capital (estimated to be 6.8 percent). This is the minimum expectation level for investors, adding that the airline industry was beginning to generate profits that would be expected of any normal business.
“The job of shoring up resilience by repairing balance sheets is under way. We have had a few years of good profits and some airlines have started to pay down debt. It will, however, take a longer run of profits before balance sheets are returned to full health,” said Tyler.
Tyler however observed that repaying accumulated debt will take several years of profitability to achieve. Airlines in North America and in some parts of Europe have seen the gearing of their balance sheets fall towards investment grade levels. But for much of the rest of the industry, it is a continuing challenge.
“Airlines are producing solid results even with some strong economic headwinds. It’s an impressive performance and the mood of the industry is generally optimistic,” said Tyler.
Factors that made this possible include oil prices. IATA said the outlook is based on oil averaging $45/barrel (Brent) over the course of the year which is significantly lower than the $53.9 average price in 2015. The full impact of lower fuel prices is still being realized as hedges mature. Overall, fuel is expected to represent 19.7 percent of the industry’s expenses, down from a recent high of 33.1% in 2012-2013.
Another factor is the prevalent weak economic conditions. IATA said GDP is expected to expand by 2.3 percent in 2016. That is down from 2.4 percent in 2015 and the weakest growth since 2008 when the global financial crisis hit. Consumer spending is relatively strong, but the corporate sector is conserving cash and, despite some easing of government austerity budgets and low interest rates, there is little evidence of an acceleration in infrastructure spending.
Passenger is another factor, which IATA said is robust with 6.2 percent growth expected in 2016. That is, however, a slowdown from the 7.4 percent growth recorded in 2015. Capacity is expected to grow slightly ahead of demand at 6.8 percent. Load factors are expected to remain high (80.0 percent), but with a slight slip from 2015 (80.4 percent). Yields are expected to fall by 7.0 percent. Unit costs, driven by lower fuel prices, are expected to fall by 7.7 percent. Overall, the passenger business is projected to generate $511 billion in revenues, down from $518 billion in 2015.
However, the cargo side of the business remains in the doldrums as IATA said the area is recording only 2.1 percent growth in demand.
“Airlines are growing their fleets with long-haul wide-body aircraft to meet strong passenger demand growth. This adds cargo capacity to a flat air cargo market. Cargo yields are expected to fall by 8.0 percent this year. Overall cargo is expected to generate $49.6 billion in revenues, down from $52.8 billion in 2015,” said Tyler.