Lufthansa vows extensive revamp as losses balloon

Lufthansa vows extensive revamp as losses balloon
Lufthansa’s April passenger numbers fell 98 percent year on year as the coronavirus pandemic hit the travel sector. (AFP)
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Updated 04 June 2020

Lufthansa vows extensive revamp as losses balloon

Lufthansa vows extensive revamp as losses balloon
  • Embattled German carrier looks to cut costs after posting $2.3bn 1Q loss

FRANKFURT: Lufthansa has pledged a wide-ranging restructuring, from job cuts to sales of non-core assets, as it seeks to repay a €9 billion ($10.1 billion) state bailout and navigate deepening losses in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.

The pledged cost cuts came as the German carrier posted a first-quarter net loss of €2.1 billion on Wednesday, only days after securing the bailout that is intended to help the airline ride out the crisis but will require it to cede some of its prized landing slots to rivals.

“In view of the very slow recovery in demand, we must now take far-reaching restructuring measures,” said CEOCarsten Spohr.

The group, which includes Swiss, Austrian Airlines and Brussels Airlines, is bracing for a significant decline in 2020 earnings and has begun talks with labor representatives over cutbacks, the company added.

Brussels Airlines will reduce its fleet by 30 percent and its workforce by 25 percent while Austrian Airlines’ fleet and personnel costs are to be cut by 20 percent.

The sale of non-core operations is also on the cards in the medium term, the group said, having postponed the planned sale of parts of airline caterer LSG in March.

The first-quarter loss, which widened from €342 million a year earlier, was driven by writedowns of €266 million on its fleet. There were also writedowns on the book value of LSG North America and budget carrier Eurowings, of €100 million and €57 million, respectively.

A slump in fuel hedging contracts was another €950 million burden on the bottom line.

Shares in the group were up 3 percent in early trade, though analysts expect the national carrier to be removed from Germany’s benchmark blue-chip DAX for the first time since the index was launched in 1988.

Lufthansa’s April passenger numbers slumped 98 percent year on year to 241,000, but it laid out plans on Wednesday to increase capacity in September to reach 40 percent of what it had scheduled before the pandemic.


France wants end to US-Europe trade spat

France wants end to US-Europe trade spat
Updated 17 January 2021

France wants end to US-Europe trade spat

France wants end to US-Europe trade spat
  • All eyes on President-elect Biden to resolve disputes between partners

PARIS: The EU and the incoming administration of US President-elect Joe Biden should suspend a trade dispute to give themselves time to find common ground, France’s foreign minister said in remarks published on Sunday.

“The issue that’s poisoning everyone is that of the price escalation and taxes on steel, digital technology and Airbus,” Jean-Yves Le Drian told Le Journal du Dimanche in an interview.

He said he hoped the sides could find a way to settle the dispute. “It may take time, but in the meantime, we can always order a moratorium,” he added.

At the end of December the US moved to boost tariffs on French and German aircraft parts in the Boeing-Airbus subsidy dispute, but the bloc decided to hold off on retaliation for now.

The EU is planning to present a World Trade Organization (WTO) reform proposal in February and is willing to consider reforms to restrain the judicial authority of the WTO’s dispute-settlement body.

The US has for years complained that the WTO Appellate Body makes unjustified new trade rules in its decisions and has blocked the appointment of new judges to stop this, rendering the body inoperable.

The Trump administration, which leaves office on Wednesday, had threatened to impose tariffs on French cosmetics, handbags and other goods in retaliation for France’s digital services tax, which it said discriminated against US tech firms.

Overturning decades of free trade consensus was a central part of Trump’s “America First” agenda. In 2018, declaring that “trade wars are good, and easy to win,” he shocked allies by imposing tariffs on imported steel and aluminum from most of the world.

While Trump later dropped tariffs against Australia, Japan, Brazil and South Korea in return for concessions, he kept them in place against more than $7 billion worth of EU metal. The bloc retaliated with tariffs on more than $3 billion worth of US goods, from orange juice and blue jeans to Harley Davidson bikes, and took its case to the WTO.

While Biden promises to be more predictable than Trump, he is not expected to lift the steel tariffs immediately. Even if he wants to, he could run into reluctance from producers in “rust belt” states such as Michigan and Pennsylvania that secured his election win.

Hosuk Lee-Makiyama, director of trade think tank ECIPE, said the US was unlikely to award Europe a “free pass,” noting that countries that had offered concessions to have their tariffs lifted could complain if Europe won better treatment.

Resolving future trade disputes could become easier, if Biden reverses Trump policy that paralyzed the WTO by blocking the appointment of judges to its appellate body.