Second straight loss clips Etihad’s wings

Etihad has been overhauling its strategy since 2016 with changes to top management, dropping unprofitable routes, and retiring operationally costly aircraft. (Courtesy Etihad)
Updated 14 June 2018
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Second straight loss clips Etihad’s wings

  • Abu Dhabi carrier reduced core losses by 22 percent to $1.52 billion
  • Passenger numbers for the year were flat at 18.6 million

LONDON: Etihad Airways reported its second consecutive annual loss on Thursday, with losses forecast to continue as the Abu Dhabi-based carrier maintains its ambitious turnaround strategy following years of high spending.

Higher fuel prices, costs associated with the turnaround, and the insolvency of its European subsidiaries Alitalia and Air Berlin contributed to the losses, which were slightly lower than those recorded the previous year.

The UAE’s national carrier reduced core losses by 22 percent to $1.52 billion for 2017, thanks to a 7.3 percent cut in costs, while annual revenues rose by 1.9 percent to $6.1 billion.

But Etihad’s passenger numbers for the year were flat at 18.6 million. The airline filled an average of 78.5 percent of its seats during the year, a figure little changed from 2016.

“We made good progress in improving the quality of our revenues, streamlining our cost base, improving our cash flow and strengthening our balance sheet,” Tony Douglas, Etihad’s group CEO, said.

“These are solid first steps in a journey to transform this business into one that is positioned for financially sustainable growth over the long term. It is crucial that we maintain this momentum.”

Despite the trimmed losses, Etihad remains in the early stages of its turnaround, with a lot more work to be done, according to John Strickland, an analyst with UK-based JLS Consulting.

“It also faces more challenging market conditions with over-capacity and rising fuel prices, and this is reflected in it making significant cuts to its own output,” Strickland told Arab News.

“I expect more pain to come before it is able to reach a position of stability.”

The recovery of oil prices in the second half of 2017 increased fuel costs for the airline industry.

Etihad said that higher fuel prices cost the airline $337 million during the year.

The carrier’s turnaround strategy follows several years of aggressive expansion under former CEO James Hogan, which saw it acquire stakes in several international airlines in a bid to catch up with rivals such as Dubai-based Emirates.

The expansion hit the buffers last year, with the insolvency of Alitalia and Air Berlin, two of its largest interests. Etihad subsequently sold its stake in European regional carrier Darwin Airline, with rumors earlier this year that it may also look to offload its stake in Virgin Australia, after the latter canceled its last route to Abu Dhabi earlier last year.

According to Saj Ahmad, chief analyst at Strategic Aero Research, it may be three or four years before the airline is profitable again because of flat revenues and passenger numbers.

“This is irrespective of whether it curtails its capital expenditure on new airplanes or axing less profitable routes,” he said.

Earlier this week Reuters reported that Etihad was in talks to cancel or defer some of its orders of Boeing 777X aircraft.

Ahmad suggested that Etihad may look to new alliances with other large international carriers, particularly US-based airlines, in a bid to increase traffic through its Abu Dhabi hub.

The settlement last month of a bitter dispute between UAE carriers and some of their US counterparts, which had accused Etihad and Emirates of abusing Open Skies agreements, makes this more likely.

Under the terms of the deal, Emirates and Etihad agreed to publish annual financial statements “consistent with internationally recognized accounting standards,” with the carriers saying they had no plans to introduce additional “fifth freedom flights” — journeys to the US from other countries undertaken without passengers setting foot in the UAE.

“Etihad would derive far better income generation through partnering any one of the big US three airlines — not least because they won’t collapse like Air Berlin or Alitalia,” said Ahmad.

“Looking at joining Skyteam or the Star Alliances may also be food for thought, too.”


US in criminal probe of China's Huawei

Updated 25 min 21 sec ago
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US in criminal probe of China's Huawei

  • The Wall Street Journal said the US justice department is looking into allegations of theft of trade secrets from Huawei's US business partners
  • Huawei forcefully denied accusations that his firm engaged in espionage on behalf of the Chinese government

WASHINGTON: US authorities are in the "advanced" stages of a criminal probe that could result in an indictment of Chinese technology giant Huawei, a report said Wednesday.
The Wall Street Journal, citing anonymous sources, said the Department of Justice is looking into allegations of theft of trade secrets from Huawei's US business partners, including a T-Mobile robotic device used to test smartphones.
Huawei and the Department of Justice declined to comment on the media report.
However, Huawei noted that "Huawei and T-Mobile settled their disputes in 2017 following a US jury verdict finding neither damage, unjust enrichment nor willful and malicious conduct by Huawei in T-Mobile's trade secret claim."
The move would further escalate tensions between the US and China after the arrest last year in Canada of Huawei's chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou, who is the daughter of the company founder.
The case of Meng, under house arrest awaiting proceedings, has inflamed US-China and Canada-China relations.
Two Canadians have been detained in China since Meng's arrest and a third has been sentenced to death on drug trafficking charges -- moves observers see as attempts by Beijing to pressure Ottawa over her case.
Huawei, the second-largest global smartphone maker and biggest producer of telecommunications equipment, has for years been under scrutiny in the US over purported links to the Chinese government.
Huawei's reclusive founder Ren Zhengfei, in a rare media interview Tuesday, forcefully denied accusations that his firm engaged in espionage on behalf of the Chinese government.
The tensions come amid a backdrop of President Donald Trump's efforts to get more manufacturing on US soil and slap hefty tariffs on Chinese goods for what he claims are unfair trade practices by Beijing.
In a related move, lawmakers introduced a bill to ban the export of American parts and components to Chinese telecom companies that are in violation of US export control or sanctions laws -- with Huawei and fellow Chinese firm ZTE the likely targets.
"Huawei is effectively an intelligence-gathering arm of the Chinese Communist Party whose founder and CEO was an engineer for the People's Liberation Army," said Republican Senator Tom Cotton, one of the bill's sponsors.
Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen said in the same statement: "Huawei and ZTE are two sides of the same coin. Both companies have repeatedly violated US laws, represent a significant risk to American national security interests and need to be held accountable."
Last year, Trump reached a deal with ZTE that eases tough financial penalties on the firm for helping Iran and North Korea evade American sanctions.
Trump said his decision in May to spare ZTE came following an appeal by Chinese President Xi Jinping to help save Chinese jobs.