Sunday, October 20, 2019

Why Airasia is winning its local fight and that's hugely important

I have not written on Airasia for a long while, as over the last 18 months, its business has taken a strategic operational direction change. The group has moved into not owning its planes largely, getting hugely aggressive in its digital initiatives. I have to admit, it is hard to measure its digital initiatives when in the market we have Grab which was valued at $14 billion while Airasia as a whole is barely $1.5 billion.

At the same time, Airasia which is operating in markets such as Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Philippined, India and Japan is growing aggressive. By not owning planes, it has rooms to grow more aggressively as long as it can keep its operational cashflow strong. This is what Airasia has been able to do despite growing strong. As an example, its operational cashflow for last 2 quarters combined was RM1.252 billion. Assuming it can keep up to the trend, the business is operating at close to 3x Price / EBIDA or Price / Operational Cashflow.

Without the high spending on capital expenditure as it now do not buy planes, the price it is trading at is hugely attractive. As a result, I am not sure why most analysts are putting down the price of the company.

Airasia's biggest tradeoff actually is the weak Asian currency (except for Thai Baht) as its leasing and fuel costs are in USD. The good part is that all its competitors are facing the same situation. Scoot, one of its closest competitor may have a slight advantage as SGD seems to be stronger and its parent flies globally where it can earn USD and Euro.

However, those are not the biggest factor to Airasia. I seem to think that Airasia, with its management can control its ownself if it is operating in an environment that is based on free competition i.e. open skies. Airasia, unfortunately is not operating in this environment. To sum up its founder closely, Airasia is operating in a hugely regulated environment. To make matters worse, the airports operations in this region is largely monopolised and regulated.

In the past, and up until today, Airasia's largest base is KLIA2 and it is not getting the support from its airport partner. If I am a Tesco, and I rent 95% of the space and bring 97% of the traffic to my property owner. However, I am consistently in dispute with my owner, how would investors think. My owner consistently would like to increase my fees. I have no other options as airport operations license is given to only one operator.

Even then, I am still able to turn a decent profit. We have MAVCOM which was created in 2015 and it seems to think Airasia's business concept is the same as other airlines. MAHB seems to be able to understand Outlet Mall concept as it ties up with Mitsui to operate one, but when comes to airports it is not able to think so. Emirates and Qatar Airlines does not mind paying for a premium service equivalent airport, but Airasia does not mind the no-frills airport. The food outlets are the added convenience - not as a mean to attract traffic. This thinking is conveniently ignored by MAHB.

The National Transport Plan is working to readdress the situation. It is recognizing the impact of a low frills airline and has plans to consolidate the regulators i.e. Civil Aviation Authority of Malaysia (CAAM) and MAVCOM.

Hopefully that is a beginning for a locally developed airline that one that is able to expand overseas to have a good local base. Just like many huge international companies getting their government to support them in their own countries so that they are strong enough to grow beyond its home.

No comments: