Aircraft and transport. IATA: strong airline profitability continues in 2018
Geneva, Switzerland - Operating margins squeezed by rising costs
(WAPA) - The International Air Transport Association (IATA) forecasts global industry net profit to rise to $38.4 billion in 2018, an improvement from the $34.5 billion expected net profit in 2017 (revised from a $31.4 billion forecast in June). Highlights of expected 2018 performance include:
- A slight decline in the operating margin to 8.1% (down from 8.3% in 2017)
- An improvement in net margin to 4.7% (up from 4.6% in 2017)
- A rise in overall revenues to $824 billion (+9.4% on 2017 revenues of $754 billion)
- A rise in passenger numbers to 4.3 billion (+6.0% on the 4.1 billion passengers in 2017)
- A rise in cargo carried to 62.5 million tonnes (+4.5% on the 59.9 million tonnes in 2017)
- Slower growth for both passenger (+6.0% in 2018, +7.5% in 2017) and cargo (+4.5% in 2018, +9.3% in 2017) demand
- Average net profit per departing passenger of $8.90 (up from $8.45 in 2017)
Strong demand, efficiency and reduced interest payments will help airlines improve net profitability in 2018 despite rising costs. 2018 is expected to be the fourth consecutive year of sustainable profits with a return on invested capital (9.4%) exceeding the industry’s average cost of capital (7.4%).
Performance Drivers in 2018
Passenger: Passenger numbers are expected to increase to 4.3 billion in 2018. Passenger traffic (revenue passenger kilometers or RPKs) is expected to rise 6.0% (slightly down on the 7.5% growth of 2017 but still ahead of the average of the past 10-20 years of 5.5%), which will exceed a capacity expansion (available seat kilometers or ASKs) of 5.7%.This will push up the average load factor to a record 81.4%, helping to drive a 3.0% improvement in yields. Revenues from the passenger business are expected to grow to $581 billion (+9.2% on $532 billion in 2017). Strong performance of the passenger business is supported by expected robust GDP growth of 3.1% (the strongest since 2010).
Cargo: The cargo business continues to benefit from a strong cyclical upturn in volumes, with some recovery in yields. Volumes are expected to grow by 4.5% in 2018 (down from the 9.3% growth of 2017). The boost to cargo volumes in 2017 was a result of companies needing to restock inventories quickly to meet unexpectedly strong demand. This led cargo volumes to grow at twice the pace of the expansion in world trade (4.3%). Cargo yields are expected to improve by 4.0% in 2018 (slower than the 5.0% in 2017). While restocking cycles are usually short-lived, the growth of e-commerce is expected to support continued momentum in the cargo business beyond the rate of expansion of world trade in 2018. Cargo revenues will continue to do well in 2018, reaching $59.2 billion (up 8.6% from 2017 revenues of $54.5 billion).
Costs: The biggest challenge to profitability in 2018 is rising costs.
- Oil prices are expected to average $60/barrel for Brent Crude in 2018 (up 10.7% from $54.2/barrel in 2017). Jet fuel prices are expected to rise even more quickly to $73.8 per barrel (up 12.5% on $65.6 in 2017). Airlines with low levels of hedging (in the US and China for example) are likely to feel the impact of this increase more immediately than those with higher average hedging ratios (Europe). The fuel bill is expected to be 20.5% of total costs in 2018 (up from 18.8% in 2017).
- Labor costs have been accelerating strongly and are now a larger expense item than fuel (30.9% in 2018).
- Overall unit costs are expected to grow by 4.3% in 2018 (a significant acceleration on the 1.7% increase in 2017). This will outpace an expected 3.5% increase in unit revenues.
Debt: The industry has used the period of positive cash flows to pay dividends and to reduce debt. The debt to EBITDAR (earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, amortization and rentals) ratio has fallen from 3.7x in 2016 to 3.5x in 2017. It is expected to fall further to 3.4x in 2018. Lower debt means reduced interest payments. Despite the squeeze in operating margins (from 8.3% in 2017 to 8.1% in 2018), the net margin is expected to grow to 4.7% (from 4.6% in 2017) because of lower interest payments. This will see net profits rise to a record $38.4 billion in 2018 (up from $34.5 billion in 2017).
All regions are expected to report improved profitability in 2018 and all regions are expected to see demand growth outpace capacity expansion. Carriers in North America continue to lead on financial performance, accounting for nearly half of the industry’s total profits.
Economic Impact of Aviation
- Unique city pairs served by airlines grew to over 20,000 in 2017 (+1,351 on 2016 and double the 10,000 city pairs served in 1996). This saves time for users and opens new links for tourism, trade and investment.
- Since 1996 the inflation-adjusted cost of air transport to consumers has halved.
- International tourists travelling by airplane are expected to spend more than $750 billion in 2018, a rise of 15% in just over 2 years.
- The value of goods carried by airlines is expected to exceed $6.2 trillion in 2018, representing 7.4% of world GDP.
- Direct employment by airlines will exceed 2.7 million worldwide in 2018. On average across the world we forecast that in 2018 each airline employee will generate over $109,000 of gross value added (the firm-level equivalent to GDP), which is considerably higher than the economy-wide average. (Avionews)