Scandinavian SAS sees full-year financial results significantly impacted by the coronavirus

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Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) Airbus A320 planes parked at Copenhagen Airport, Kastrup, Denmark, on March 15, 2020.
Photo: Johan Nilsson / TT kod 50090

This week, Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) reported the financial results for its fiscal year ending on 31 October 2020. The airline reported a huge net loss of around 9.275 billion SEK (905 million EUR).

On these results, SAS CEO Richard Gustafson said: “Since the beginning of 2020, the coronavirus has changed the fundamentals for the aviation industry through globally imposed travel restrictions and general travel concerns among the broader population. Naturally, SAS is no exception, and our quarterly and fiscal year earnings were severely impacted by the ongoing pandemic. After seeing demand slowly improve during the summer, an accelerated number of COVID-19 cases in September and October unfortunately led to reinforced restrictions across Europe with reduced demand as a direct consequence.”

Press release: FULL-YEAR FINANCIALS SIGNIFICANTLY IMPACTED BY THE ONGOING PANDEMIC

AUGUST 2020–OCTOBER 2020

  • Revenue: MSEK 3,035 (13,435)
  • Income before tax (EBT): MSEK -3,271 (1,096)
  • Income before tax and items affecting comparability: MSEK -3,043 (1,226)
  • Net income for the period: MSEK -2,579 (861)
  • Earnings per common share: SEK -4.46 (2.19)

SIGNIFICANT EVENTS DURING THE QUARTER

  • SAS completed a successful recapitalization adding SEK 12 billion in liquidity and SEK 14.25 billion in strengthened equity
  • SAS repays a SEK 3.3 billion revolving credit facility agreement in accordance with its terms

NOVEMBER 2019–OCTOBER 2020

  • Revenue: MSEK 20,513 (46,112)
  • Income before tax (EBT): MSEK -10,151 (794)
  • Income before tax and items affecting comparability: MSEK -8,619 (786)
  • Net income for the period: MSEK -9,275 (621)
  • Earnings per common share: SEK -21.55 (1.54)

SEVERE NEGATIVE IMPACT FROM THE PANDEMIC

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has led to a decrease in total revenue of over 77% compared to same quarter last year. To mitigate the revenue shortfall, we continued to deliver on our cost reduction initiatives and total operating expenses were reduced by 53% year-on-year to SEK 5.8 billion. However, the current limited demand for travel precludes positive earnings, which ended at negative SEK 3 billion, down SEK 4.3 billion on last year.

Following a successful recapitalization process, our cash position remains strong at SEK 10.2 billion at the end of the quarter. Cash flow from operating activities ended at negative SEK 2.9 billion. This was within the previously communicated range taking the increased pace of refunds to our customers into account.

The full fiscal year 2020 was of course also heavily impacted by the pandemic. Since March, most of our traffic has been temporarily paused, and demand hasn’t yet returned to anywhere near the previous year’s levels. This led to a decline in revenue of 55% to SEK 20.5 billion, in part mitigated by a 37% reduction in costs due to a lower variable cost and an exhaustive cost reduction program. Still, full-year earnings declined SEK 9.4 billion to negative SEK 8.6 billion.

RENEWED RESTRICTIONS SLOWED DEMAND RECOVERY

There were signs of a demand recovery during the summer season, but as the number of observed COVID-19 cases in Europe and North America accelerated in September and October, renewed travel restrictions reversed a positive trajectory.  At the beginning of the fourth quarter, some 40% of SAS’ pre-COVID markets were under travel restrictions, growing to over 65% by the end of the quarter.

To adapt to the recent developments, SAS had to gradually reduce offered seat capacity to well below 40% by the end of October. However, SAS is maintaining the backbone of the aviation infrastructure in Scandinavia, with a significantly broader offering to, from and within Scandinavia than any other carrier.

ACCELERATED PACE OF CUSTOMER REFUNDS

At the end of the quarter, we launched a set of initiatives to improve the refund lead time, including automated self-service options for travel agents and consumers, robots to tackle the backlog and hiring additional resources to handle more complex cases. We’re pleased to see that our efforts have significantly improved an otherwise unsatisfactory situation. During the quarter, SEK 1 billion was repaid for canceled flights, which is an increase of more than 50% compared to the previous quarter. However, we will not rest until all rightful claims have been settled, amounting to approximately SEK 0.9 billion as of 1 December. I would like to take this opportunity to apologize to all customers who have experienced unsatisfactory lead times, caused by an unprecedented situation for the whole airline industry.

SECURING COST-EFFECTIVE OPERATIONS

Capability and flexibility to scale capacity up or down to mirror the current volatile demand is of utmost importance to preserve liquidity and avoid unnecessary cost. Available furlough (temporary layoff) schemes across Scandinavia are therefore of significant importance as they provide a foundation for more disciplined capacity management to offset volatility in demand. We welcome the fact that the existing schemes have been extended in all three Scandinavian countries, as it enables us to maintain flexibility in capacity planning and in our operating procedures.

Even though we constantly monitor demand and adapt our capacity accordingly, travel restrictions are imposed instantly while capacity adjustments require some operational lead time. Consequently, we noted a ten-percentage-point reduction in the cabin factor and somewhat higher operational costs in the fourth quarter compared to the previous quarter.

However, we negotiated new and more flexible terms with our regional production partners during the quarter, shifting more costs from fixed to variable, and thereby allowing for better alignment between offered capacity and available demand.

Furthermore, we have initiated the process to phase out 21 of our older and less fuel-efficient aircraft at an earlier stage than originally planned, including 15 Boeing 737NG, five Airbus A340 and one Airbus A330 aircraft. The accelerated phase-out will support liquidity through the sales of aircraft and engines, as well as reduce spend on maintenance and leasing. Together with the agreement with Airbus on deferred deliveries of new aircraft, it will also better align our fleet with current and expected demand. The accelerated phase-out will also contribute to lower emissions. Over the last 12 months, our total CO2 emissions have decreased 57.2%, where the majority is related to reduced capacity as a consequence of the pandemic, but usage of more efficient aircraft connected to our ongoing fleet renewal has also contributed with 2.3 percentage points, in line with our ambitious target to reduce total CO2 emissions 25% by 2025.

In addition, the initiatives implemented since the second quarter, including renegotiated contracts with our major suppliers and halting all non-necessary spend on e.g., marketing, product and IT development, have also further reduced cash burn and overall spend.

We have also remained resilient in our endeavor to secure long-term efficiency gains. The 5,000 redundancies, which were announced in the second quarter, have now been finalized, and as of 1 November, a new organization reflecting the reduced number of positions was fully operational.

We have also advanced the dialogue with our unions to secure additional long-term productivity improvements. In the fourth quarter, a number of changes to local agreements have been implemented and two new agreements securing the required productivity uplift were reached, one with our SAS Ireland crew and one with employees at the technical department in Copenhagen.

SUCCESSFUL RECAPITALIZATION FINALIZED

By the end of the quarter, our recapitalization initiative was finalized, raising SEK 12 billion in new liquidity and 14.25 billion in equity.

According to the terms of the utilized SEK 3.3 billion state guaranteed revolving credit facility, it was repaid in full by the end of the quarter. Following the completed rights issue, we aim to apply for the Norwegian state guaranteed term loan and to explore additional options to preserve a strong liquidity, such as aircraft financing.

To illustrate the value of Scandinavia’s largest loyalty program, EuroBonus, we transferred it to a separate entity in which we will continue to further strengthen the relationship with our customers.

The finalized recapitalization, followed by additional initiatives to manage liquidity, makes SAS prepared for a tough winter season and a challenging fiscal year 2021, that most likely will be loss making. I am grateful for the support that our largest owners, the governments of Denmark and Sweden, and the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation, have demonstrated throughout this recapitalization process. I am also thankful for the support and trust demonstrated by individual and institutional investors by participating in the rights issue, despite the challenging times that the aviation industry is currently undergoing.

LOOKING AHEAD

Until demand returns and the world recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, we will continue to persistently execute on our business plan and thereby return to a sustainable position both financially and environmentally.

Even though we’re encouraged by the recent progress related to the development and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, demand remains uncertain and makes it impossible to provide any guidance on the financial performance for the coming fiscal year. However, we expect weak operating cashflow in the first quarter of 2021 due to low demand during the winter season combined with accelerated refunds. Our view continues to be that the ramp-up phase for the airline industry will last until 2022 before demand can reach more normalized levels, with a return to pre COVID-19 levels a few years thereafter.

I would like to express my sincere appreciation to all colleagues at SAS for their fighting spirit and dedication during this turbulent year and I know that all of us are looking forward to once again welcoming our travelers onboard!

Rickard Gustafson,

President and CEO

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