Ryanair Taps U.K. Loan Program, Digs In for Slow Recovery

(Bloomberg) -- Ryanair Holdings Plc boosted its liquidity with a 600 million-pound ($726 million) loan backed by the U.K. government and said the coronavirus crisis will reduce passenger numbers by half over the next year.

Europe’s biggest low-cost carrier is tapping Britain’s Covid Corporate Financing Facility as it digs in for a slow recovery that’s set to see a price war across a much diminished air-travel market, it said in a statement Monday. Group operations are under review and its Austrian arm could close.

While Chief Executive Officer Michael O’Leary aims to resume flying in July in a bid to rescue at least some revenue this summer, Ryanair said it expects to carry fewer than 80 million passengers in the 12 months through March 2021, compared with an original target of 154 million. Bookings are edging up, but not enough to stem losses in what’s usually the peak season.

Ryanair Taps U.K. Loan Program, Digs In for Slow Recovery

“We’re seeing a little bit of a pickup,” Chief Financial Officer Neil Sorahan said. “There’s definitely people starting to look at kind of August September out to get some sun before the kids go back to school.” The company said it will book a loss of more than 200 million euros ($216 million) for the June quarter and a smaller hit in the three months through September.

Ryanair shares were trading 4.6% higher at 8.84 euros as of 8:10 a.m. in Dublin, where the group is based, paring the stock’s decline this year to 40%.

The company, which counts London Stansted as its biggest base, tapped the U.K.’s support program after vehemently arguing against aid for its rivals, though Sorahan said the funding doesn’t compare to billions of euros destined for Deutsche Lufthansa AG and Air France-KLM.

The Bank of England-administered CCFF is available to all firms with an investment grade credit rating “whether you’re a house builder, an airline or a boot manufacturer,” the CFO said. “It’s not illegal state aid.”

Ryanair Taps U.K. Loan Program, Digs In for Slow Recovery

The funding lifts Ryanair’s cash balance to 4.1 billion euros, giving it “one of the strongest cash positions in the industry,” according to Sanford C. Bernstein analyst Daniel Roeska, who said the company could probably withstand a shutdown beyond the end of the calendar year without a need for fresh equity.

Job Cuts

O’Leary is also slashing costs by deferring capital investments, suspending share buybacks and cutting management pay, and plans to eliminate 3,000 pilot, cabin crew and office jobs, with remaining staff taking a 20% salary cut. With more than 99% of flights grounded the average weekly cash burn has dropped from 200 million euros in March to just over 60 million euros.

Active negotiations are underway with Boeing Co. about reducing planned deliveries of 737 Max jets -- a model currently grounded after two crashes -- over the next 24 months to reflect slower traffic, as well as with leasing firms providing Airbus SE A320s to the Vienna-based Lauda arm.

Expenses at Lauda, acquired in 2018, remain ahead of the rest of the group, and with Lufthansa’s Austrian arm set to receive about 800 million euros in support the business’s future is in doubt, according to the statement. The base will close at the end of this month with more than 300 job losses if costs cuts aren’t achieved, it said.

”Lauda is a massive challenge,” Sorahan said. “There’s a restructuring going on which requires significant cost cutting. If that doesn’t happen then unfortunately the base will have to close and the A320s will have to come out.”

Ryanair reported a profit of 1 billion euros for fiscal 2020, before exceptional items, within its guided range of 950 million euros to 1.05 billion euros. The net figure was dragged down by 353 million-euro charge against losses from jet-fuel hedges.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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