Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Airline industry recession bottoming out?

Airlines and their suppliers are reporting tentative signs a severe industry recession is bottoming out, sending shares higher on Tuesday.

Airbus, the world's largest producer of passenger jets, said airline traffic had possibly seen "the trough of the recession" and could start to rebound from next year.

"In 2009 we believe total traffic is down 2%. In 2010 we may experience a 4.6% growth rate," Laurent Rouaud, senior vice president of market and product strategy, said at the Asian Aerospace exhibition in Hong Kong.

In Europe, Air France-KLM said passenger traffic fell 2.9% in August but its planes were on average 84.8% full, a rise of 1.1 percentage points from the same holiday peak month a year ago.

Its shares rose 6.6%, helping push the DJ Stoxx pan-European Travel and Leisure index up 2.4%, with traders also citing catch-up by an underperforming sector.

Shares in Aer Lingus, British Airways, Ryanair and Lufthansa rose between 2 and 4%.

The Air France figures came as industry data for July showed airline passenger and freight traffic dropped much less sharply year-on-year than in the first half of 2009.

ACI Europe said after a survey of 106 airports passenger traffic at European airports fell 4.3% compared with July 2008, versus an average 9.6% drop during the preceding six months of this year.

Freight traffic — a widely watched indicator of economic health — fell 13.4% compared with July 2008, an improvement on the average 22.4% decrease during the preceding six months.

"That would fit with our picture," said economist Cristoph Weil at Commerzbank. "We believe we will see a strong recovery in Q3 and Q4 in the euro area."

Air France-KLM said its cargo business had in August confirmed signs of stabilisation seen in recent months.

Ireland's Aer Lingus said on Monday passenger numbers had risen 7.7% year-on-year in August.

Growth predicted

Economists say the global economy looks to be pulling out of recession, with the OECD predicting a renewal of growth for the United States and euro zone in the third quarter.

But, like the airline industry, the broader economy remains on life support and G20 finance ministers agreed on Sept. 5 to keep stimulus measures in place..

ACI Europe's numbers were helped slightly by weak comparative figures in July 2008, when the economic downturn first started to bite and passenger data entered negative territory for the first time in six years.

But weak comparatives account for only about a fifth of the improvement in freight volumes, ACI archive figures show.

Airbus and rival Boeing Co are headed for their worst annual order tally in at least 15 years as struggling airlines cancel or defer almost as many planes as they buy.

The world's airlines are expected to post total 2009 losses of $9 billion including at least $6 billion in the first half, says the International Air Transport Association..

A Boeing executive said any recovery in the economy would not translate into recovery in demand for aircraft until 2012.

"Next year will be a year of economic recovery, 2011 will be a year of airline industry recovery and then in 2012, airlines will probably increase their demand for new airplanes," Randy Tinseth, vice president of marketing for Boeing Commercial Airplanes, told Reuters in a Hong Kong interview.

Air France-KLM last week announced 1,500 voluntary redundancies, adding to thousands of airline job cuts worldwide.

Even once airlines fly out of recession, they will be haunted by big questions on costs, especially fuel, Rouaud said.

At $67.90 a barrel, benchmark North Sea Brent crude futures prices have risen 38% since the end of March.

Copyright 2009 Reuters Limited.

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