Cautious Airbus forecast disappoints after 2020 loss

Cautious Airbus forecast disappoints after 2020 loss

European planemaker Airbus restored business targets after generating cash in the fourth quarter, but withheld a dividend as it posted a pandemic-driven loss for 2020.

FILE PHOTO: The nose of an Airbus A380 is seen outside the factory of Stelia Aerospace in Meaulte
FILE PHOTO: The nose of an Airbus A380 is seen outside the factory of Stelia Aerospace, a subsidiary of Airbus, in Meaulte, France, July 2, 2020. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol/File Photo

PARIS: European planemaker Airbus axed its dividend for a second year and predicted flat deliveries this year as it braces for more coronavirus uncertainty after posting a 2020 loss.

The planemaker's decision to restore key business targets is the latest evidence of recovery hopes being watched by financial markets following the pandemic, which severely hurt air travel.

Rival Boeing, mired in a separate crisis over the grounding of its 737 MAX that saw Airbus reclaim the title of largest global jetmaker, is not yet giving detailed views.

But analysts expressed concerns that the deliberately cautious delivery forecast from Airbus jarred with the same company's plans to start unwinding cuts in jet production, albeit at a slower pace than initially planned.

Shares in Airbus fell 3.4per cent in early trading.

Chief Executive Guillaume Faury said the forecast was for "at least" 566 deliveries, unchanged from last year when production was 40per cent below its peak. This will give investors some visibility in a world in which the pandemic seems to be getting worse in the short term, he said.

The actual level of deliveries will depend on demand from airlines rather than supply chains or funding, he added.

A collapse in demand from carriers worldwide has left almost 100 jets sitting outside Airbus factories, down from a peak of around 145. But any shortfall in deliveries compared to factory production could drive the costly stockpile higher again.

"...we remain cautious about the pace at which the airline industry can rebuild its balance sheet to the point where aircraft demand rises significantly," Jefferies analyst Sandy Morris wrote.


In a sign of the strain on airline finances, Airbus sliced 100 billion euros (US$120.5 billion) or 20per cent off the value of its unfilled order book to 373 billion euros.

While the coronavirus crisis has raised doubts over the ability of airlines to honour contracts, Airbus said the decrease also reflected an unusually low set of new orders during the crisis and a weakening of the U.S. dollar.

Airbus posted a 2020 operating loss of 510 million euros, weighed by charges booked in previous quarters, notably for restructuring and the closure of the loss-making A380 programme.

On a widely watched adjusted basis, Airbus stayed in the black but saw operating profit drop 75per cent to 1.7 billion euros as plunging airline demand drove revenues down 29per cent to 49.9 billion euros.

The company's helicopter division outperformed.

For 2021, Airbus predicted 2021 adjusted operating profit of 2 billion euros (US$2.4 billion).

Stronger than expected jet deliveries in the fourth quarter helped Airbus generate 4.9 billion euros in cashflow before M&A and customer financing, beating a quarterly break-even target.

For the year as a whole, Airbus spent 6.9 billion euros, as the impact of the coronavirus crisis came hard on the heels of a record 3.6 billion euro bribery fine agreed in early 2020. Airbus said it expected free-cashflow breakeven in 2021.

(US$1 = 0.8304 euros)

(US$1 = 0.8296 euros)

(Reporting by Tim Hepher; Editing by Sudip Kar-Gupta, Gerry Doyle and Emelia Sihtole-Matarise)

Source: Reuters