Qantas warns of loss, shares get hit
SYDNEY AUSTRALIA’S Qantas Airways warned of its first annual net loss since it was privatised in 1995, blaming deep losses at its international operations, weak travel demand and soaring fuel costs, sending its shares down by a fifth to a record low.
The forecast comes two weeks after Qantas unveiled a plan to separate its bleeding international business from its profitable domestic unit, and follows a bruising 12 months wrangling with unions that led to the grounding of its fleet for nearly two days last year.
Chief Executive Alan Joyce, whose turnaround plan and handling of the unions has won shareholder plaudits, said the past few weeks had been particularly harsh, forcing the airline to warn investors.
“A very disappointing forecast.
It just highlights the size of losses and problems with the international business and justifies Joyce’s move to split the group,” said David Liu, Head of research at ATI Asset Management, which owns Qantas shares.
“Having said that, I take a lot of positives from the initiatives to cut costs, capex. It shows the management understands the macro economic environment and is doing everything it can to mitigate it.” Joyce said Qantas would post a net loss for 2011/12.
He forecast underlying profit before tax would slide as much as 90 percent to A$50 million ($48.6 million) to A$100 million, while the airline will incur A$380 million in restructuring costs - half the statutory level.
The latest underlying profit forecast compared with A$522 million a year ago and was well below analysts’ expectations of A$285 million.
The Qantas plan to separate its international and domestic divisions has sparked speculation a foreign carrier could buy a stake in the airline, with a recent Deutsche Bank research note suggesting Emirates could invest in the domestic arm.
Joyce has told media that reports of Emirates taking an equity stake are wrong.
Separately, Abu Dhabi’s flagship carrier Etihad Airways said it had bought 4 percent of Qantas’ domestic rival Virgin Australia Holdings and aimed to build its stake to 10 percent.
Etihad has a strategic alliance with Virgin Australia and the Gulf carrier’s chief executive James Hogan ruled out any move to buy a stake in Qantas.
The airline’s profit warning underlines the global aviation sector’s struggles as high oil prices and sagging demand due to the European economic crisis take their toll.
The International Air Transport Association has downgraded its forecast for airline profits in 2012 to $3 billion from $3.5 billion, and has said sharp rise in oil prices could lead to losses as high as $5.3 billion for the sector.