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Asia carriers to help industry earn $15B

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GENEVA » Airlines will show better-than-expected earnings of $15.1 billion this year as investors favor shares of carriers in Asia, where travel is expected to grow strongly, the International Air Transport Association said yesterday.

Based on its market value, Air China is now worth twice what investors are valuing either Delta in the U.S. or Germany’s Lufthansa, highlighting the industry’s shift away from the U.S. and Europe to higher-growth countries, IATA said.

"The world is changing in aviation, and it’s changing very, very quickly," IATA Chief Executive Giovanni Bisignani told a news conference in Geneva. "Rapidly developing markets are shifting the industry’s center of gravity to the East."

Air China has seen its market capitalization surge to $20 billion, followed by Singapore airlines with $14 billion and Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific with $12 billion.

China Southern has a market cap of $11 billion, as does LATAM, the Latin American airline recently created from the merger of Chile’s LAN and TAM of Brazil. U.S. carrier Delta and Germany’s Lufthansa follow with market capitalizations of $10 billion each.

By passenger miles flown — a common measure of airline size — Delta still ranks as the world’s number one, followed by American Airlines and United, with Air China outside the top ten.

But burgeoning demand in the East will likely see Asian carriers rise up the table in terms of passenger miles too, especially if airlines there merge like U.S.-based carriers have in recent years.

IATA said passenger traffic across Asia outstripped that of North America for the first time in 2009.

Together, the two regions are largely responsible for the industry’s recovery this year, with weak economic conditions in Europe and low margins acting as the biggest drag on profits, the group said.

Airlines will see net profits of $15.1 billion in 2010, IATA said. This marks a massive turnaround from the $10 billion industry loss in 2009 and $16 billion loss in 2008.

 

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