British Airways’ owner IAG reports profit in tough times - GulfToday

British Airways owner IAG reassures investors with profits


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The British Airways owner IAG reassured investors with profits in line with expectations despite a tough fuel and trading environment, which has hit other airlines.

Rivals such as EasyJet and Lufthansa have reported losses for the early months of 2019, but IAG said first quarter operating profit was 135 million euros ($152 million) versus consensus expectations of 136 million euros.

However, IAG, which also owns Iberia, Aer Lingus and Vueling reiterated that operating profit in 2019 would be in line with 2018 due to the pressure from the higher fuel prices.

“For a lot of airlines, first quarter has been very difficult and most of the European airlines are reporting major losses in the three months. I think that’s what sets us apart from our competitors,” Chief Executive Willie Walsh told reporters.

“In what has been a challenging quarter, we have continued to be profitable.”

Shares in IAG rose 3.7%, bouncing back from a two-year low hit in the previous session.

Analysts at RBC said the results were good, especially against the backdrop of losses for other airlines and a lack of clarity over Britain’s final exit date from the European Union.

In April, EasyJet said that European travellers were holding off booking their summer holidays in the face of uncertainty over and when how the Brexit process will end, weakening demand for tickets and prices.

Prime Minister Theresa May has been unable to secure a Brexit deal and has been forced to delay Britain’s departure from March 29 to October 31. But Walsh said he had not seen similar trends to EasyJet at IAG.

“We can see no evidence of any Brexit impact in our results, and we see no evidence of it impacting on forward booking trends or behaviours,” he said, adding that weakness was mainly in countries like Argentina or Brazil where there were economic difficulties.

The firm said that profit after tax before exceptional items was down 62.6% to 70 million euros.

It added that passenger unit revenue was down 0.8 percent for the three months to March 31, but was expected to improve over the rest of the year.

Meanwhile, the chief executive of British Airways owner IAG ruled out bidding for Thomas Cook’s airline unit on Friday, a day after rival Virgin Atlantic was reported to be interested in part of the business. Lufthansa and private equity fund Indigo Partners are seen among the front-runners for Thomas Cook’s airlines after the firm put it up for sale in February, to raise cash after a string of profit warnings in 2018.

IAG had previously been linked with the business, but on Friday, Willie Walsh said that his firm had not made a bid.

“In relation to Thomas Cook; we’re not putting in any bid,” Walsh said.

He added in an analyst call later in the day that the firm was not actively pursuing M&A at the moment but was in a strong position to do so if something attractive came up.

Virgin Atlantic has put in a preliminary offer for the tour operator’s UK long-haul business, Sky News reported on Thursday. Thomas Cook and Virgin Atlantic both declined to comment on the report.

Lufthansa is a bidder for Thomas Cook’s German airline Condor with an option to acquire the remaining airlines of the British travel group, Lufthansa’s CEO said on Tuesday.

Indigo Partners is also a likely suitor for Thomas Cook’s airline business, sources said last week, adding that the deadline for initial bids was on Tuesday earlier this week.

An unexpectedly warm summer in northern Europe last year deterred holiday makers from booking lucrative last minute getaways, resulting in two major profit warnings for the world’s oldest travel company.

Worries about the firm’s ability to pay its debts pushed the yield on its euro-denominated bonds that mature in 2022 to a record high last Friday, and Thomas Cook said later in the day that it was in talks with its lenders about bolstering its finances.

Thomas Cook’s half-year earnings release for the six months to March 31 is due next Thursday.

The European Union’s efforts to create a capital market to rival the United States have made little headway and the project needs a new push to remove barriers that hamper progress, bankers said on Friday.

The capital markets union or CMU seeks to encourage companies to raise money by issuing stocks and bonds, rather than continuing to raise loans from EU banks, some of which are still struggling to recover from the 2008 financial crisis.

The CMU, launched in 2015, has been a central plank of the current European Commission’s mandate that ends in the summer. But after a reset of the project in 2017 and adoption of 11 new EU laws, most companies in Europe still get their money from banks.


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