Ryanair, Europe’s No. 1 airline, reported a 6% increase in full year net profit to €1.316bn.
The combination of a 13% cut in average fares, coupled with Year 3 of the “Always Getting Better” (AGB) programme delivered 13% traffic growth to 120m customers, and an industry leading 94% load factor. Unit costs fell by 11% (ex-fuel down 5%).
Ryanair’s CEO Michael O’Leary said: “We are pleased to report a 6% increase in PAT to €1.316bn, despite difficult trading conditions in FY17 caused by a series of security events at European cities, a switch of charter capacity from North Africa, Turkey and Egypt to mainland Europe, and a sharp decline in Sterling following the June 2016 Brexit vote. We reacted to these challenges by improving our customer experience, and stimulating growth with lower fares.
Highlights of the past year include:
- Ave. fares fell 13% to €41
- Traffic grew 13% to 120m customers
- Load factor rose to an industry leading 94%
- Unit costs were cut 11% (ex-fuel they declined 5%)
- We delivered Year 3, and announced Year 4, initiatives of AGB
- Over €1bn was returned to shareholders via share buybacks
New Routes, Bases & Fleet
During FY17 we took delivery of 52 new B737’s, launched 206 new routes, and opened 10 new bases at primary airports in Bucharest, Corfu, Frankfurt Main, Hamburg, Ibiza, Nuremburg, Prague, Sofia, Timisoara and Vilnius. Our fleet will grow to 427 aircraft by March ‘18 as we increase traffic to 130m customers. This year, our 2 aircraft base at Frankfurt Main (opened in March) will increase to 7 aircraft from September. In April we opened a base in Naples and next autumn we open bases in Memmingen (Munich) and Poznan, as well as launching our first flights to Tel Aviv and the Ukraine (our 34th country).
We recently announced the launch of Ryanair Sun, a charter airline which will have a Polish AOC and management team. This airline will operate in summer ’18 with a fleet of 5 aircraft and will significantly boost our presence in Poland where Ryanair is already the largest scheduled airline. We expect Ryanair Sun to become Poland’s No.1 charter airline, as it grows to 15 aircraft by summer ’19.
As legacy competitors in Italy, Germany, Romania, and Poland undergo deep restructuring, the scale of our airport growth negotiations is accelerating. We continue to juggle more opportunities for 2018 and 2019 than our existing fleet growth can accommodate. Accordingly, we are engaged in a fleet review with Boeing, and are taking up opportunities to accelerate fleet growth in 2018 and 2019 by extending 10 of our planned lease returns in these years, and adding selectively to our current order where Boeing may have some delivery opportunities over the next 24 months. As competitor airlines undergo deep restructuring, we are aware of the need to have additional short haul aircraft to respond quickly as these unique growth opportunities arise.
Improving the AGB Customer Experience
Year 3 of our AGB programme has seen forward bookings and load factors rise for the third year in a row as we improved our website, mobile app, and digital platforms. We recently announced Year 4 of AGB which will deliver connecting flights (initially on Ryanair flights, then later with other partners) and last week began selling long haul flights from Madrid with Air Europa. We will roll-out Ryanair Holidays to all markets, and continue to build our “Amazon of Travel” platform through better search tools, travel guides, express booking, auto check-in, and onward transport partnerships.
While we again lowered fares in FY17, our punctuality was impacted by repeated ATC staff shortages and strikes, and unusually disruptive weather in November and December. On times slipped 2% points from an industry leading 90% to 88%, which is why we are campaigning with Airlines for Europe (A4E) to encourage the European Commission to take action to ameliorate the impact of ATC strikes on overflights in Europe. In March alone, a series of unjustified ATC & airport strikes caused almost 560 Ryanair flight cancellations, and the loss of over 100k customer bookings.
Labs and Ancillary
The success of Ryanair Labs is reflected in our growing load factor and record traffic. Ryanair.com is now the world’s most visited airline website and our mobile app has over 20.5m downloads. Membership of “MyRyanair” grew to 20m members by year end and we expect this to rise to 30m members in FY18.
We continue to invest in Labs, and recently doubled the size of our Wroclaw (Poland) team as well as opening our third Labs dev. centre in Madrid. While many competitors subcontract their IT development to high cost 3rd parties, in Ryanair we believe the success of Labs has vindicated our decision to manage and control this development internally, while rolling out high quality, proprietary, mobile and web platforms.
Continuing improvements in our website and mobile technology has boosted ancillary revenue, by making it easier for customers to choose travel related services including our “Plus” products, reserved seating, priority boarding, security fast track, etc. Our car hire conversion rates are rising, and we are working hard to boost the sale of “Rooms” and “Holidays” where we are delivering low cost travel solutions for our customers.
In FY17 ancillary revenue grew by 13% to €1.8bn, and accounts for 27% of total revenues. We have raised our medium term guidance for ancillary sales to 30% of total revenues by March 2020, so we are well on track to achieve this target.
Ryanair continues to recruit and invest in the best available talent. In FY17 we created over 1,000 new positions for pilots, cabin crew, engineers, and IT developers, and we will create at least another 1,000 new jobs again in FY18. Last year we promoted more than 900 people internally. We invest continuously in staff training and have installed 3 fixed based simulators, 2 engineering training aircraft, and purchased a B737-700 specifically for pilot training so that our people can learn and develop on the very best equipment at no cost to themselves.
In April we negotiated new pay and condition agreements with 10 of our pilot and cabin crew bases which means that all of our 86 bases now enjoy 5 year agreements, which guarantee them industry leading rosters, and pay increases each year. At a time when many of Europe’s airlines are cutting pay, pensions, and jobs, this combination of job security and annual pay increases is a key attraction for Ryanair’s people.
In April the European Court of Justice (ECJ) issued a positive ruling in the A-Rosa social tax case which – although it does not involve Ryanair directly – clarifies the social tax status of international transport workers. This now allows Ryanair to return to the French Courts to recover the unlawful double-charges (approx. €15m) imposed on Ryanair and our people. The A-Rosa decision should also halt actions by the Italian Authorities who have sought to double-charge social taxes which have already been validly paid in Ireland under EU law.
Balance Sheet and Shareholder Returns
Our balance sheet remains strong. At year end we report a modest net debt of just over €200m having spent €1.45bn on CAPEX, and €1.02bn on share buybacks in FY17. In February we raised a further €750m in the Eurobond market, at an annual coupon of just 1.125% p.a. We will use this finance for aircraft CAPEX which will ensure we maintain the lowest fleet costs of any EU airline.
We completed €1.02bn in shareholder buybacks in February. The success of our buyback programme is underlined by the fact that while profits grew by 6% in FY17, earnings per share have accelerated by more than double this rate (14%) to €1.05 in March 2017. We are committed to returning surplus cash to shareholders, as long as we are profitable, cash generative, and can fund aircraft CAPEX from internally generated revenues.
The Board has approved a further €600m share buyback which will start this week and, subject to market conditions, be completed by the end of October. Since the current split between ordinary shares and ADR’s is 58%/42%, we will confine this buyback to ordinary shares. This latest buyback will increase the funds returned to shareholders since 2008 to over €5.4bn.
Ryanair actively campaigned for a remain vote in the UK Referendum. We were disappointed by the result, and are concerned at the significant uncertainty over the terms of the UK’s departure from the EU in March 2019. For our customers, we hope the UK will remain in Open Skies which will mean no change for UK consumers and visitors. However, the UK has indicated that it does not wish to do so, and until we get clarity over the final terms of the UK’s future trading relationship with the EU, there must be significant uncertainty over flights between the UK and the EU for a period of time from March 2019 onwards.
A “hard” Brexit could cause significant disruption to UK/EU flights for a period of months after March 2019, which is why we must remain flexible. In the absence of such certainty, or direction, we will continue to pivot our growth away from the UK in 2017 and 2018 to capitalise on the many growth opportunities elsewhere in Europe. We have contingency plans and will adapt to changed circumstances in the best interests of our customers.
As usual at this time of year, the full year outlook is clouded by the absence of H2 yield visibility. We expect our “load factor active” policy will grow traffic 8% to 130m. While forward bookings in H1 are reasonably robust (up 1% on prior year) pricing remains soft, and depends on the absence of security events in Europe’s cities or airports. While Q1 will benefit from Easter, we have limited visibility of close-in peak summer bookings and zero H2 visibility. We expect FY18 ave. fares will decline by -5% to -7% due to weaker Sterling, and continuing excess capacity in Europe. Ancillary revenue per customer will likely be flat as we continue to drive penetration with discounts. We expect our fuel bill will fall by €70m in FY18, but we will pass on these savings to customers in lower air fares. We expect ex-fuel unit cost to fall by 1% in FY18.
As a result of these factors we are cautiously guiding an 8% increase in FY18 net profit to a range of €1.40bn to €1.45bn. Investors should be wary of the risk of negative Brexit developments, or any repeat of last year’s security events at European cities, which could damage consumer confidence, close-in bookings, and this FY18 guidance.”