March 9, 2011
Cathay Pacific Airways reported a big plane order and a record half-year profit but warned high oil prices could hurt its results this year.
Cathay, Asia's No.5 carrier by market value, said it ordered 15 Airbus A330-300 and 10 Boeing 777-300ER aircraft in March with a combined list price of about USD$6 billion. The order followed December's purchase of two Airbus A350-900 aircraft.
Rolls-Royce said in a separate statement that Cathay's newly ordered Airbus A330s will be powered by its Trent 700 engines.
To offset the impact of high fuel prices, Cathay may follow its rivals, including Qantas Airways, in raising its fuel surcharge, analysts say.
However, carriers, many of which also hedge in the oil market, would not be able to fully pass additional costs to customers, and that would bite into their profits.
Cathay profits rose to HKD$7.2 billion (USD$924.3 million) for the second half of last year, its best-ever six-month profit. That marked an 86 percent increase over the year-earlier profit of HKD$3.88 billion.
Cathay's full-year earnings rose to HKD$14.05 billion, a record annual profit, helped by asset disposals.
The company had forecast a net profit of at least HKD$12.5 billion for 2010, against a profit of HKD$4.69 billion for 2009.
"These are very good results. But now oil prices are high... this is a big concern," said Dale Tsang, managing director at Imperial Dragon Asset Management in Hong Kong. "All airline stocks now are high-risk investment."
Globally, the highly cyclical industry is facing rising costs. International oil prices hit a 2-1/2 year high recently, with US crude staying above USD$100 per barrel due to unrest in Libya.
Global airline net profits would halve this year as rising costs, especially oil prices, offset increasing demand, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) said last week.
IATA, expects global airline net profit to be USD$8.6 billion this year, down from USD$9.1 billion forecast in December.
OIL PRICES WEIGH
Cathay, which suffered heavy losses during the global financial crisis in 2008, said its results this year could be hit by high oil prices that might derail the global economic recovery.
"Demand is at present expected to remain strong in 2011, but this expectation could be undermined if the current (or any higher) level of oil prices were to reduce global economic activity," Chairman Christopher Pratt said in a statement.
Some analysts say Cathay's aircraft orders are also aimed at replacing part of its existing fleet due to be retired by the end of this decade, but it underscored its confidence in its business prospects.
"Apparently, the management sees the growth potential and we have confidence in the team. There should be no over-capacity concerns," said Kevin Lau, an analyst at Daiwa Securities.
Strong demand for air travel in the Asia-Pacific region and a recovery in international cargo flows helped Cathay, its partner Air China, and some other regional carriers post record earnings last year.