At first glance the earnings results posted by Singapore Airlines and Etihad today appear to be headed strongly upwards and downwards respectively, with the former making almost 46 percent more profits in its first quarter of its financial year and the latter dropping a net loss of US$ 1.87 billion in its financial year ending March 31.
But everything depends on whether the one off hit by Etihad, which bears some resemblance to the Qantas write down of $2.8 billion mostly in fleet valuations in financial year 2013-2014, will bring a similar reversal of recent bad fortunes for the ambitious Abu Dhabi based airline.
For the deeply scarred retail shareholders in Virgin Australia holdings, the fortunes of Singapore Airlines and Etihad, each sitting on one fifth of VAH equity in the company of two potentially shaky Chinese investors (who hold approximately another two fifths of Australia’s second largest airline) are of more than passing interest.
And of course the reporting periods released by SingaporeAir and Etihad are different. In the three months to June 30 Singapore Airlines made $SIN 281 million, or $88 million more than the same period a year ago. But it’s the increase in profitability that counts when looking at the health of two very different airlines with, at least on last guidances, similar enthusiasm for their Virgin Australia investment.
Singapore Airlines filled substantially more seats in its first quarter, and despite aggressive discounting, appears to be flourishing.
Etihad’s breakout in its statement today (Thursday evening in Australia) revealed unchanged passenger revenue of US 4.9 billion for 2016, but an 11 percent reduction in costs, an efficiency dividend extinguished by fierce competitive pressures, poor fuel hedging (it does after all have to pay for fuel in countries other than the UAE) and the abandonment by some corporate flyers of business class for the savings offered by economy class.
Not to mention, although it did get a passing mention, “a US$ 808 million charge on certain assets and financial exposures to equity partners, mainly related to Alitalia and airberlin.”
The investment disaster that overtook Etihad’s ruinous involvement with two of Europe’s worst performing airlines appears to have a long way to go before all of the negatives that resulted from buying into them are dealt with.
The Etihad statement said “Total impairments of US$ 1.9 billion included a US$ 1.06 billion charge on aircraft, reflecting lower market values and the early phase out of certain aircraft types.” It also referred to legacy fuel hedging losses, but only vaguely at this stage, and said the effects of fuel hedging would be less adverse in this financial year ending March 31, 2018.
If Etihad had to report to a broad rather than sovereign shareholder base there would be some very tough questions to be posed that would presumably get more detailed answers than were posted this evening.
And there would inevitably be questiones asked and hopefully answered about its real assessment of its stake in Virgin Australia, which some argue forcefully needs to spend considerably more on its own operations in terms of fleet, and more clearly explain its product strategy for the fleet it has, as it struggles to meet expectations that it will mimic Qantas in profitability as well as often put it into the shade with products that unfortunately aren’t selling as well or as profitably as they are for its bigger Australian rival.
The insider view at Singapore Airlines as to its intentions, or hopes, for Virgin Australia, also remain unknown in any detail at this stage. But at least after tonight, it is clear that Etihad and Singapore Airlines have two managements that aren’t in the mood to tolerate unnecessary costs and are rolling out well defined strategies to turn their own operations into profitable as well as the much admired high quality full service carriers that they and Virgin Australia are today.
Those management initiatives merit close attention. They will affect the Australian market in many ways through their international services to this country, including the impacts massive new investments in their hub airports at Abu Dhabi and Singapore will have on the Qantas/Emirates business partnership where the Dubai hub is years behind in terms of coping with growth and the need for faster development of the second, and ultimately much larger airport for the Emirate.
The best way to perhaps describe the current state of rivalry between Qantas and the complicated ownership structure of VAH is that domestic activity is stagnating, but the competitive tensions are rising once more.