Better times forecast for Air NZ

Air New Zealand aircraft at Dunedin International Airport earlier this year. Photo from <i>ODT</i...
Air New Zealand aircraft at Dunedin International Airport earlier this year. Photo from <i>ODT</i> files.
Earthquakes, rising fuel costs and declining demand for international flights are all expected to contribute to an estimated 17%-36% decline in after-tax profit for the national carrier, Air New Zealand.

Dividends are expected to reflect the tough trading year, falling from 7c per share a year ago to an estimated 4c for the present full year.

Air New Zealand, which is scheduled to report its full-year result on August 25, faces a financial year of two halves, according to Craigs Investment Partners broker Peter McIntyre.

Operating statistics released in May supported Air New Zealand's own expectation for an unprofitable second half during 2011, because of earthquakes and rising fuel trends, Mr McIntyre said.

"The year-to-date passenger numbers remain robust at 4.5%, but May's passenger numbers declined 3.9%, reflecting a 13.3% collapse on Asian routes," Mr McIntyre said.

Air New Zealand's revenue is forecast by Craigs to be boosted almost 10% to $4.45 billion, but earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation are forecast to decline 4.5% to $425 million, while after-tax profit falls 17% from $82 million a year ago, to $68 million.

Mr McIntyre expected some rebound to profitability for the second half as pressure on currency and fuel hedging eases, and from the positive effect of the Rugby World Cup and Virgin airlines' transtasman alliance.

While highlighting the decline in long-haul flight, Mr McIntyre said the domestic flight numbers were showing some strength.

"More domestic flights are a positive sign for the economy in general," Mr McIntyre said.

Forsyth Barr broker Peter Young said Air New Zealand's short-term earnings had "taken a hit", not only from higher fuel costs but the knock-on negative effects of the Christchurch and Japanese earthquakes.

Forsyth Barr was estimating an after-tax profit decline of 36%, from last year's $82 million to $51.9 million, but because the risks were already factored into the share price, it offered good value to buyers, he said.

He maintained a "favourable" medium-term earnings outlook, with Air New Zealand being able to raise yields from ticket costs to offset fuel costs, Rugby World Cup benefits, capacity expansion when new aircraft arrive and also the transtasman alliance.



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