Surging economy boosting airlines

Updated: 2011-08-27 07:55

By Jasmine Wang (China Daily)

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 Surging economy boosting airlines

Employees of China Southern Airlines Co at the check-in counter at Beijing Capital International Airport. The carrier flew 38.4 million travelers in the first half of 2011. Stefen Chow / Bloomberg

HONG KONG - China Southern Airlines Co boosted first-half profit 33 percent as a result of rising domestic travel and a stronger yuan. Air China Ltd's earnings fell on a smaller contribution from its stake in Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd.

China Southern, Asia's largest carrier by passenger numbers, reported net income of 2.76 billion yuan ($432 million). Its shares rose to the highest intraday level in nine months in early Hong Kong trading. Air China's profit fell 12 percent to 4.06 billion yuan after its Cathay contribution declined by 1.1 billion yuan. Both results were in line with analysts' estimates.

The two airlines, the world's biggest by market value, both boosted sales more than 20 percent as they added planes and benefited from China's surging economy. The yuan's 5.2 percent gain against the dollar in the year ended June also pared the value of overseas debt built up from buying planes from Boeing Co and Airbus SAS.

"Airlines around the world must envy Chinese carriers," said Li Lei, a Beijing-based analyst with China Securities Co. "China is an attractive market and a stable revenue source."

China Southern's total operating revenue rose 22 percent to 41.4 billion yuan, the Guangzhou-based carrier said in a filing late on Thursday. Air China's sales climbed 31 percent to 45.6 billion yuan, according to separate statement. Price caps on fuel used on domestic routes also shielded the carriers from higher kerosene costs that hit earnings at Cathay Pacific, Singapore Airlines Ltd and Delta Air Lines Inc.

China travel

China Southern, the nation's biggest carrier on domestic routes, flew 38.4 million travelers in the first half, a 6.1 percent increase. It filled 80.6 percent of seats, 2.7 percentage points higher than a year earlier. Passenger yields, a measure of average fares, rose 10 percent.

The carrier posted a 1.2 billion yuan gain from currency fluctuations. It was expected to report net income of 2.8 billion yuan, based on the median of four analyst estimates in a Bloomberg News survey.

The airline has climbed 7.2 percent in Hong Kong trading since a high-speed train crash last month led to speculation that the government may slow rail-construction plans. Beijing-based Air China dropped 3.7 percent in the period, while the benchmark Hang Seng Index has fallen 12.2 percent.

Concerns about train safety and a reduction in services may help airlines maintain fares and passenger loads, according to Credit Suisse Group AG analysts Ingrid Wei and Sam Lee in an Aug 15 note. They upgraded China Southern to "outperform" from "underperform".

Air China value

Air China posted a 1.51 billion yuan foreign-exchange gain, more than five times higher than the year-earlier figure. Its profit contribution from a stake in Cathay Pacific plunged 70 percent to 483 million yuan. The Hong Kong-based airline's net income declined on fuel costs and after gains from asset sales a year earlier.

Air China has a market value of $17.1 billion, based on Bloomberg data, about triple the figure for United Continental Holdings Inc, the world's biggest carrier by fleet size. China Southern is worth $10.8 billion.

Air China's group-wide traveler numbers rose 34 percent to 28.8 million, helped by the acquisition of a controlling stake in Shenzhen Airlines Co last year. The carrier had a passenger load factor of 82.4 percent, up 4.4 percentage points

It was expected to make a first-half profit of 4.3 billion yuan, based on three analyst estimates.

Bloomberg News

(China Daily 08/27/2011 page10)