Monday, January 31, 2011

National carrier a tempting prospect Investors with an appetite for rollercoaster rides will have had their interest piqued by Air New Zealand lately




Last month the airline got the green light from regulators for its alliance with Virgin Blue on trans-Tasman flights, then followed up this month with the purchase of 15% of Virgin Blue.

Prime Minister John Key then added to the mix by announcing on Wednesday the government was considering selling some of its 75% Air NZ stake, although it would keep a majority holding.

The sell-down scenario is vague so far – we don't know how it might be sold or at what price – but it could weigh on the company's share price until the overhang is dealt with.

In the long run, however, a sell-down may be beneficial as it widens the market for Air NZ shares.

Analyst Geoff Zame of Craigs Investment Partners said Key's announcement was welcome news.

"Liquidity [given the small free float] has always been a major issue in attempting to diversify the register so a partial selldown is likely to be well received," he said.

"Air NZ has also been one of the highest-yielding NZX50 stocks through the global financial crisis – so there is no reason why it may not be attractive to the retail base despite the super-cyclical nature of the sector."

Some of the volatility in the shares can be seen in the change since early last July, when Zame upgraded his rating on Air NZ from "hold" to "buy" at a price of $1.07.

Last week Air NZ was trading around $1.45, having closed as high as $1.53 in mid-January.

Last year Zame noted the company had proven profitable through a "perfect storm" for the aviation sector and continued to pay respectable dividends, which made it a relatively conservative investment play compared to most of its airline peers.

Subsequent developments appear to have reinforced his view.

Commenting on the airline last week, he said: "I think Air NZ has a great story to tell and has a great niche in the fastest-growing aviation region in the world [Asia-Pacific]."

In the interests of disclosure, it should be noted that Craigs is part-owned by Deutsche Bank, whose Australian investment banking arm was involved in advising on and executing the Virgin Blue transaction.

Another analyst with a positive view was Morningstar, which reaffirmed its "buy" rating on Air NZ following the Virgin deal.

"We think this is a good move by Air NZ although sceptics would argue that the firm's previous investment in Ansett proved to be a disaster. We expect earnings to accelerate this year on the back of strong demand and higher yields."

Like Zame, Morningstar commented on the airline's record through the recession.


NEHA JAIN                                                                                                                

Jetstar Asia and Valuair are launching a codeshare partnership with Qantas on major Asia Pacific routes, building up the Jetstar Group’s hub at Singapore Changi Airport.

Since 2004, Qantas has codeshared with Jetstar across most of its Australia, New Zealand and Asia Pacific services.

This arrangement, subject to final regulatory approval, will now be expanded to include Jetstar operations from Singapore, Qantas’ primary hub and Jetstar’s major flying base in Asia.

QF flight numbers will initially be applied to 11 Asian destinations served from Singapore Changi International Airport by Jetstar Asia and Valuair, including Jetstar Asia’s daily Singapore-Auckland A330 service, set to start from March 17, 2011.

Beginning March 1, 2011 and effective for travel from April 1, 2011, the Qantas and Jetstar Asia/Valuair codeshare partnership will cover the following routes operated from Singapore.


* Singapore-Jakarta (operated by Valuair)
* Singapore-Auckland* (A330 from 17 March 2011)
* Singapore-Kuala Lumpur
* Singapore-Bangkok
* Singapore-Osaka (via Taipei)
* Singapore-Denpasar (Bali)
* Singapore-Penang
* Singapore-Ho Chi Minh City
* Singapore-Phuket
* Singapore-Hong Kong
* Singapore-Taipei

Jetstar Group CEO Bruce Buchanan heralded the partnership saying, “This commercial arrangement strengthens our existing market leadership position for value based flying in Singapore. It also provides greater consumer traction and access to future Jetstar and Qantas services.”

Jetstar Asia CEO Chong Phit Lian said Jetstar’s extended codeshare partnership with Qantas was an important advancement and next step in Jetstar’s evolving Singapore flying hub, a cornerstone to its Pan Asian network expansion and overall large presence in Asia.

“Jetstar’s ongoing strategic development and evolution of our major Singapore flying hub we predict will be greatly enabled over time by this new commercial arrangement with Qantas,” Ms Chong said.

“This is a common sense and practical next step to further develop both our Singaporean and broader Pan Asian business.

“This agreement, enhanced by Jetstar’s current strong competitive market position, will no doubt incentivize future travel from Qantas customers, such as those in the United Kingdom and Europe, on the growing Qantas Group network throughout the Asia Pacific region,” she said.

Chong said the new agreement included for Qantas customers a seamless booking and ticketing experience, with full baggage connectivity, standard Qantas baggage allowance, as well as complimentary onboard offerings such as meals and comfort packs.

Group executive Qantas Airlines commercial, Rob Gurney, said the codeshare agreement with Jetstar would expand Qantas' network of destinations in Asia, providing greater choice and convenience for passengers.

"Singapore is Qantas' major hub in Asia and we are pleased to be able to offer our customers a wider range of travel options from Changi Airport, in partnership with Jetstar Asia and Valuair," Gurney said. “Today’s announcement underline


NEHA JAIN                                                                                                                

Saturday, January 29, 2011

NZ Govt. May Reduce Stake In Air New Zealand

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key says the government will consider reducing the majority stake it holds in Air New Zealand, although he also says this ownership model has worked well and should be emulated with other state-owned assets.

In a major annual policy speech, Key said he has asked Treasury for advice on “the merits and viability” of reducing the government’s shareholding in the airline, which is currently about 75%. However, he stresses that the government would still retain a majority stake.

Such a move would not affect the company much. While it is the major owner, the government takes a hands-off approach to strategy and the running of the carrier. The government acquired the majority ownership in 2001 when the carrier was in dire financial straits.

“A change in the government’s shareholding while retaining a majority stake would have no influence on Air New Zealand’s business but would provide greater market liquidity for shareholders,” the airline says in a statement.

Key says the government is conducting a broader review of certain state-owned assets, to identify “where we have more money invested than we absolutely need to.”

He says the mixed-ownership model under which Air New Zealand operates, with a government majority stake but some private equity, “gives the best of both worlds.”

“Under this model, the government has a controlling stake in what is a crucial piece of transport infrastructure and guarantees that it will be majority New Zealand owned,” says Key. “But by not owning 100% of the airline, the government also has capital free to invest in other assets.” A similar model “could be extended to more of the government’s commercial assets.”

Key says under mixed government-private ownership, “Air New Zealand has been a creative and innovative company and a model corporate citizen … [and] has also offered some very competitive prices for air travel. I am convinced that Air New Zealand would not be run as well, nor provide as good a service to customers, if it was owned 100% by the government.”


NEHA JAIN                                                                                                                

Domestic Airbus island-hopping its way to NZ

Air New Zealand's new all-black A320 plane for domestic routes is about to set off on its three-day delivery flight to New Zealand, island-hopping across the Pacific to arrive in Auckland early next week.

In a route similar to earlier days when international aircraft did not have long-range fuel tanks, it is stopping over in Gander, Canada, then Denver, Los Angeles, Hawaii, and Samoa on its way to Auckland.

At Los Angeles, on Sunday morning (local time), it will be showcased to aviation enthusiasts at LAX airport, while the flight crew sleep.

The aircraft - painted black with a silver fern to mark the airline's sponsorship of the All Blacks - was recently flown from the Airbus manufacturing facility in Toulouse, France, to Hamburg, Germany, for a fit-out of the cabin interior. The ZK-OAB registration is the only Air NZ A320 to be painted black.

Air New Zealand has 14 of the 171-seat aircraft on order, and this first one will be brought onto domestic routes from early February. Another three will be delivered this year and the remaining 10 progressively through until 2016, coinciding with the expiry of leases for Boeing 737-300.

The airline has said that the larger aircraft will let it boost domestic jet capacity by nearly 30 percent. The current 737 fleet is configured with 133 seats.

A test flight before an earlier A320 delivery, from Perpignan -- 200km east of Toulouse - to Germany killed five New Zealanders and the two German pilots in November 2008, after a combination of pilot error and faulty sensors caused it to crash into the Mediterranean.

3. Market boosted by aviation sector

Auckland International Airport led gainers on the NZX 50, reaching a 2-½-year high in the wake of its upbeat economic report last week.

Air New Zealand rose after posting a jump in traffic for December.

The NZX 50 rose 5.615, or 0.2 per cent, to 3358, heading for its third daily advance. Trading was quieter than usual, with Wellington market participants away for the anniversary day holiday.

Auckland Airport rose 1.8 per cent to $2.29. The shares reached the highest level since mid-2008, extending their gains since the company released a report showing it may account for almost 20 per cent of national gross domestic product and sustain more three quarters of a million jobs by 2031, based on the flow of freight and passengers through the airport.

Air New Zealand, the national carrier, rose 0.7 per cent to $1.43 after traffic figures showed the airline carried 1,322,000 passengers December, 10 per cent more than the same month a year before.

Load factor rose by 1.3 per cent to 86.3 percent compared to the previous period, with revenue passenger kilometers up 7.7 per cent to 2,861 million.

Much of the increase was built on the back of a 10.9 per cent increase in short haul passenger numbers to 1,140,000, broken down to a 10.7 percent lift in the domestic market and a 13.9 per cent increase in Tasman/Pacific.

APN News & Media, which publishes the New Zealand Herald and operates the Radio Network, was unchanged at $2.40 on the NZX after it said the diversified nature of its operations is likely to offset the effects of Queensland floods, with minimal impact on the bottom line.

The company that said while it expects the Queensland economy to rebound strongly once mop-up operations are complete, advertising revenues from small businesses, retailers and real estate are expected to remain under pressure, having already shown some signs of weakness ahead of the floods.

Hallenstein Glasson Holdings, the clothing retailer, fell 1.2 per cent to $4.05.

New Zealand's retailing sector remains under pressure, with November's core retail sales declining 0.2 per cent to $4.24 billion, the second monthly decline. A gain of 0.5 per cent was expected, based on a Reuters survey.

The New Zealand dollar will probably stay within recent ranges this week as investors prepare for the Reserve Bank to keep interest rates on hold this week.

Five of six economists and strategists in a BusinessDesk survey expect the kiwi will respect recent price-action and stay in the middle of its medium-term range between US74 cents and US76 cents ahead of this week's central bank meetings in New Zealand and the US.

The lone dissenter expects the kiwi to head lower amid heightened expectations of rising interest rates in China.

Economists expect central bank Governor Alan Bollard will keep the official cash rate at 3 per cent after New Zealand dodged a double-dip recession last year, and last week's benign inflation and tepid retail sales data won't have given him reason to tighten rates early.

Analysts now expect Bollard will start lifting rates in September, with 68 basis points of hikes priced in over the next 12 months, according to the Overnight Index Swap curve.

The kiwi rose to US75.82 cents from US75.46 cents last week.