Hong Kong's Cathay Pacific posts first annual loss since 2008, shares drop

Anthony Wallace | AFP | Getty Images

Cathay Pacific Airways on Wednesday reported its first full-year loss since the 2008 global financial crisis, dragged down by overcapacity, a strong Hong Kong dollar and mounting competition from mainland Chinese carriers.

Shares of Hong Kong's flag carrier fell almost 5 percent after the news. Cathay had warned its results for the second half of 2016 would be weak as it battles falling demand for premium class seats on long-haul routes. It now expects the outlook to remain challenging in 2017 as the headwinds continue.

Acknowledging the competitive landscape, Cathay recently undertook what was the biggest review of its business in two decades and said it would cut jobs and consider shifting some flights to its short-haul arm as part of a three year programme.

For 2016, the Hong Kong carrier posted a net loss of HK$575 million ($74.01 million), versus a profit of HK$6 billion a year ago. This is only the third time the company has posted a full-year loss since it was founded in 1946.

Turbulence ahead for SIA, Cathay
Turbulence ahead for SIA, Cathay

The results fell significantly short of an average estimate for a net income of HK$384.86 million from 13 analysts polled by Thomson Reuters. Thomson Reuters Starmine SmartEstimate had forecast a much lower profit of HK$27.10 million.

"The operating environment for our airlines was difficult in 2016, with a number of factors adversely affecting their performance. Intense and increasing competition with other airlines was the most important," Chairman John Slosar said. "We expect the operating environment in 2017 to remain challenging."

Group revenue dipped more than 9 percent to HK$92.75 billion, while passenger yields - which refers to the average fare paid per mile per customer - tumbled 9.2 percent to $0.54. Yield on cargo services fell 16.3 percent.

The airline said it would not pay a second interim dividend, slashing its dividend per share for the full year by 90.6 percent to HK$0.05.

Is premium economy the way for airlines?
Is premium economy the way for airlines?

Cathay has typically held up its premium service as its calling card, but business has faltered with state-backed mainland Chinese and Gulf carriers as well as budget airlines luring away passengers with cheaper fares.

The Hong Kong airline has also failed to reap the full benefit of low fuel costs brought on by weak crude oil prices due to hedges put in place when prices were much higher.

Cathay said it planned to cut costs in the long term by buying new and more fuel-efficient aircraft, while continuing to grow passenger capacity by 4-5 percent annually to meet strong growth in demand from the Asia Pacific region.

Shares in Cathay, which have recovered slightly from a 7-year-low hit in October after the company warned of weak results, were down 4.5 percent at HK$11.08 by 0528 GMT on Wednesday. The Hang Seng Index was mostly unchanged.

($1 = 7.7689 Hong Kong dollars)