Cathay Pacific posts profit after two years of losses, aided by rising airfares

  • After two years of losses, Hong Kong's Cathay Pacific Airways reported a HK$2.35 billion ($299.37 million) annual profit as it benefited from rising airfares and a turnaround plan designed to lower costs and boost revenue.
  • The airline, however, said the outlook for 2019 was expected to remain challenging due to geopolitical discord and global trade tensions.
  • The result for the year ended Dec. 31, aided also by out-of-the-money fuel hedges rolling off, was in line with Cathay's guidance for HK$2.3 billion profit issued on Feb. 20.
A Boeing 777-367 passenger plane belonging to Cathay Pacific taking off at Hong Kong International Airport on August 08 2018 in Hong Kong, Hong Kong.
Marcio Rodrigo Machado | S3studio| Getty Images
A Boeing 777-367 passenger plane belonging to Cathay Pacific taking off at Hong Kong International Airport on August 08 2018 in Hong Kong, Hong Kong.

Hong Kong's Cathay Pacific Airways reported a HK$2.35 billion ($299.37 million) annual profit after two years of losses, as it benefited from rising airfares and a turnaround plan designed to lower costs and boost revenue.

The airline, however, said the outlook for 2019 was expected to remain challenging due to geopolitical discord and global trade tensions dampening passenger and cargo demand and intense competition, particularly on long-haul routes in economy class.

The result for the year ended Dec. 31, aided also by out-of-the-money fuel hedges rolling off, was in line with Cathay's guidance for HK$2.3 billion profit issued on Feb. 20.

Its projection was more than double analyst estimates at the time and sent shares soaring 9 percent on the day. The airline lost HK$1.25 billion in 2017.

Cathay reported HK$111 billion in revenue in 2018, up 14.2 percent from the prior year, driven by its passenger and cargo businesses.

This year, Cathay plans to "compete hard" by extending its route network to destinations not currently served from Hong Kong, increasing frequencies on its most popular routes and operating more fuel-efficient aircraft, Chairman John Slosar said in a statement.

Since launching its revamp program in 2017, Cathay's initiatives have included cutting jobs at its head office and overseas ports, adding more economy class seats to older Boeing 777 jets and hedging fuel for shorter periods.

The airline has hedged around 30 percent of its fuel for 2019 at prices of between around $62 and $70 per barrel. Global crude prices are currently at around $67 per barrel.

As one of the world's largest cargo airlines, Cathay last year benefited from an improving freight market. However, in January it reported a 5.2 percent fall in cargo traffic, with the pre-Chinese New Year rush not as strong as last year.

In the passenger market, yields, a proxy for airfares, grew by 5.7 percent last year, with South Asia, the Middle East and Africa the strongest performing markets.

The carrier, which lacks a budget arm, last week said it was in "active discussions" about acquiring HNA's Hong Kong Express Airways Ltd, although an agreement has yet to be reached. It did not provide any further details on Wednesday.

Cathay's financial results are expected to improve further this year, with 16 analysts polled by Refinitiv I/B/E/S expecting an average net profit of HK$4.5 billion.