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IAG - strong profit rebound

International Consolidated Airlines' (IAG) underlying revenue rose from 8.5bn to 23.1bn euros last year.

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International Consolidated Airlines (IAG)'s underlying revenue rose from €8.5bn to €23.1bn last year. That reflects the lifting of Covid restrictions and a return to more normal travel patterns. There was operating profit of €1.2bn, compared with losses of €3.0bn last year.

The group restored capacity to 87% of prepandemic levels in the final quarter.

IAG's average fuel unit costs were up just over 30%, which the group said had been largely offset by improved customer demand.

Looking ahead, IAG expects capacity to be around 98% of 2019 levels in the new financial year. Underlying operating profit is expected to be €1.8 to €2.3bn, with a lot of the improvement coming in the first half of the year. The group remains mindful that geopolitical tensions could disrupt these targets.

Net debt is equivalent to 3.1 times underlying cash profits, reflecting the substantial fundraising taken on to help IAG restore liquidity during the pandemic.

The group has also announced it's agreed to buy the remaining stake in Air Europa for €400m.

The shares rose 2.0% in early trading.

View the latest IAG share price and how to deal

Our view

After an incredibly rocky few years, British Airways owner, IAG has bounced back to profits. Huge efforts have been made to ramp up capacity. And with a return of more normal travel patterns, that means planes are now full enough per-trip that profitability should be sustainable for now.

As a long-haul specialist, the path to recovery has been pretty protracted and painful. But pandemic-related challenges are now a mere vapour trail. It's time to look forwards.

The group's benefitting from two things. One is pent up travel demand, which is a real benefit and current trends show just how important holidays are to IAG's core customers. The second thing to consider is consolidation in the airline industry. A handful of smaller carriers have gone out of business and IAG's acquisition of Air Europa means there's more market for the taking. This doesn't upend the investment case, but it's a helpful market dynamic and shows the benefit of having strong, trusted brands in this business.

There are some things to keep in mind though. While pent up travel demand still has room to run, it can't go on forever. At some point we'll see what normal demand looks like once more. There's a very real risk that consumer behaviour is yet to fully adjust to a world of higher inflation and increased costs. If spending starts to rein in, we could see the strong forward order book come under pressure.

Costs are also a drag, not least because of soaring fuel costs. While this is largely outside the group's control, it has the ability to badly dent the newfound profit pile if demand weakens. With the wider cost increases that come with getting this giant bird of a business back at full height, this means pre-covid levels of operating profit aren't expected for a few years.

Our biggest concern for now is the group's eye-watering debt pile, which cost north of €824m in interest last year. Shareholder payouts will take a backseat to debt management for a long time to come.

For now, it seems the worst is over for IAG and the current risks to demand look more like turbulence than a full stop. We're a lot more positive than we've been for some time. But keep in mind, IAG is likely to face the worst of any slowdown in consumer spending and we can't rule out knocks to the valuation in the short term.

IAG's key facts

All ratios are sourced from Refinitiv. Please remember yields are variable and not a reliable indicator of future income. Keep in mind key figures shouldn't be looked at on their own - it's important to understand the big picture.

This article is original Hargreaves Lansdown content, published by Hargreaves Lansdown. It was correct as at the date of publication, and our views may have changed since then. Unless otherwise stated estimates, including prospective yields, are a consensus of analyst forecasts provided by Refinitiv. These estimates are not a reliable indicator of future performance. Yields are variable and not guaranteed. Investments rise and fall in value so investors could make a loss.

This article is not advice or a recommendation to buy, sell or hold any investment. No view is given on the present or future value or price of any investment, and investors should form their own view on any proposed investment. This article has not been prepared in accordance with legal requirements designed to promote the independence of investment research and is considered a marketing communication. Non-independent research is not subject to FCA rules prohibiting dealing ahead of research, however HL has put controls in place (including dealing restrictions, physical and information barriers) to manage potential conflicts of interest presented by such dealing. Please see our full non-independent research disclosure for more information.

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Written by
Sophie Lund-Yates
Sophie Lund-Yates
Lead Equity Analyst

Sophie is a lead on our Equity Research team, providing research and regular articles on a selection of individual companies and wider sectors. Sophie's specialities are Retail, Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG), Aerospace & Defence as well as a few of the big tech names including Facebook and Apple.

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Article history
Published: 24th February 2023