The International Air Transport Association (IATA) announced a downgrade of its 2019 outlook for the global air transport industry to a $28 billion profit (from $35.5 billion forecast in December 2018). Being also a decline on 2018 net post-tax profits which IATA estimates at $30 billion.
Rising fuel prices and a substantial weakening of world trade are the main factors that has deteriorated the business environment for airlines. In 2019 overall costs are expected to grow by 7.4%, outpacing a 6.5% rise in revenues. As a result, net margins are expected to be squeezed to 3.2% (from 3.7% in 2018). Profit per passenger will similarly decline to $6.12 (from $6.85 in 2018).
In 2019, the return on invested capital earned from airlines is expected to be 7.4% (down from 7.9% in 2018). While this still exceeds the average cost of capital (estimated at 7.3%), the buffer is extremely thin. Moreover, the job of spreading financial resilience throughout the industry is only half complete with a major gap in profitability between the performance of airlines in North America, Europe and Asia-Pacific and the performance of those in Africa, Latin America and the Middle East.
“This year will be the tenth consecutive year in the black for the airline industry. But margins are being squeezed by rising costs right across the board including labor, fuel, and infrastructure. Stiff competition among airlines keeps yields from rising. Weakening of global trade is likely to continue as the US-China trade war intensifies. This primarily impacts the cargo business, but passenger traffic could also be impacted as tensions rise. Airlines will still turn a profit this year, but there is no easy money to be made,” said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s Director General and CEO during the official launch of the IATA Annual General Meeting taking place in Seoul-South Korea from June 1-3,2019.
The Cargo yields are expected to be flat in 2019 after a 12.3% improvement in 2018, as cargo load factors fall further, and supply-demand conditions weaken while the Total passenger numbers are expected to rise to 4.6 billion (up from 4.4 billion in 2018) meaning passenger yields are expected to remain flat in 2019 after a 2.1% fall in 2018.
“The good news is that airlines have broken the boom-and-bust cycle. A downturn in the trading environment no longer plunges the industry into a deep crisis. But under current circumstances, the great achievement of the industry—creating value for investors with normal levels of profitability is at risk. Airlines will still create value for investors in 2019 with above cost-of-capital returns, but only just,” said de Juniac.
According to IATA,African airlines will deliver a $0.1 billion loss (unchanged from 2018), continuing a weak trend into its fourth year. Each passenger carried is expected to cost the carriers $1.54, leading to a -1.0% net margin. Breakeven load factors are relatively low, as yields are a little higher than average and costs are lower. However, few airlines in the region are able to achieve adequate load factors, which averaged the lowest globally at 60.7% in 2018. Overall, industry performance is improving, but only slowly.