Airbus pledges profit gain after bribery settlement hit

Airbus pledges profit gain after bribery settlement hit

Airbus's annual press conference on Full-Year 2019 results in Blagnac
Airbus's annual press conference on Full-Year 2019 results in Blagnac near Toulouse, France, February 13, 2020. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau

TOULOUSE, France: Airbus pledged higher jet deliveries and operating profit this year, after an international bribery settlement and problems with the A400M transport plane plunged the aerospace group to a €1.36 billion (US$1.48 billion) net loss for 2019.

A weaker sales outlook for the military transporter led to a €1.21 billion charge and will continue to weigh in coming years, Airbus said on Thursday. Its full-year loss also reflected a provision for last month's US$4 billion settlement with prosecutors over past corrupt practices.

Adjusted operating income, excluding the charges and other one-offs, rose 19 per cent to €6.95 billion and should top €7.5 billion in 2020, Airbus said. Revenue increased 11 per cent to 70.48 billion.

Airbus turned in a "strong underlying financial performance", Chief Executive Guillaume Faury said, and will focus this year on operational and cost improvements as well as "reinforcing our company culture". Airbus shares were up 0.8 per cent at 0908 GMT.

Airbus is well placed to benefit from the crisis surrounding arch-rival Boeing's 737 MAX airliner, grounded since last March after two deadly crashes. But production issues with the European group's own single-aisle A320 jet family may limit its ability to respond.

While setbacks with the A321's new "ACF" cabin design have been mostly resolved, Faury said, Airbus plans to raise single-aisle production by only "one or two" planes after hitting its monthly goal of 63 for 2021.

The group also announced a deal to buy Canadian group Bombardier's remaining stake in the A220 jet program, part of a market for smaller passenger planes shaping up to be another major battleground with Boeing.

Airbus played down the potential damage from the virus outbreak currently rattling airlines and the broader global economy - endorsing traffic growth forecasts that "assume no major disruptions, including from the coronavirus".

Nonetheless, Faury acknowledged some Chinese airlines had requested "very short-term" postponements of new jet deliveries that he described as logistical.

The virus outbreak is still "too recent to be able to understand the magnitude and the consequences", he added. Airbus is targeting about 880 commercial jet deliveries this year.

Raising its proposed dividend by 9 per cent to 1.80 euros per share, Airbus also predicted full-year free cash flow of around 4 billion euros, up from 3.509 billion in 2019.

The A400M earnings hit comes on top of billions of past charges for Europe's biggest defense project, which has been a financial thorn in Airbus' side for more than a decade.

The program delivered 14 planes in 2019, on schedule, but now faces "increasingly challenging" obstacles including repeated extensions to a German export ban on Saudi Arabia, Airbus said. The group said it expected about €2 billion in further related losses by mid-decade.

For the fourth quarter, adjusted operating income fell 9 per cent to €2.81 billion, ahead of the €2.74 billion expected by analysts, according to an Airbus poll. Quarterly revenue rose 4 per cent to €24.31 billion.

Source: Reuters/nh/jt