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StockBeat: Air-France-KLM Drags Airlines Down on Overcapacity Fears


By Geoffrey Smith

Investing.com -- It’s a miserable, manic Monday for airline stocks across Europe thanks to a triple-whammy of bad news from France, Germany and the U.K.

The biggest loser in early trading was Air France-KLM (PA:AIRF), which fell as much as 8.4% after a report that it will step in to rescue the bankrupt Aigle Azur airline. EasyJet (LON:EZJ), which was also linked with making a bid for Aigle Azur, fell 3.2%.

The news threatens a rerun – albeit on a smaller scale – of the Air Berlin fiasco two years ago, when Europe’s airlines passed up a golden opportunity to resolve problems of overcapacity in the short-haul segment, and instead carved up the collapsed operator's assets between themselves in an attempt to grab market share.

As with the Air Berlin episode, there is the suspicion that the government will lean on the local national champion (then, Berlin and Lufthansa; now Paris and Air France-KLM) to come up with some of solution that minimizes job losses.

The timing of the report is unfortunate, in any case. Air France-KLM published disappointing traffic figures for August earlier, showing the economic slowdown taking a heavy toll on its business.

The number of the passengers carried by the Franco-Dutch group rose by only 1% from a year earlier. In the first seven months of the year, they’d been up 3.2%. Passenger growth is no longer keeping up with AF-KLM’s capacity growth: available seat-kilometers were up 1.6%. In other words, the group is flying more empty seats across the world – so, not the best time to be buying more uneconomic capacity, one might think.

Reminders of the sector’s recurring problems with overreaching were enough to push Ryanair (LON:RYA), Norwegian Air Shuttle (OL:NWC) and Wizz Air (LON:WIZZ) down by more than 2% each.

Germany’s Lufthansa was a relative outperformer, losing only 1.9%. That’s despite comments by the head of Germany’s Christian Democrats on Sunday that she supported a new tax on flights in order to reduce carbon emissions. Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said in an interview with state broadcaster ARD that a levy on flights could be “one way” forward, along with cutting value-added tax on less carbon-intensive rail transport. France already introduced a carbon-related tax on flights earlier this summer, and a rapprochement of policy between the EU’s two biggest countries could pave the way for a pan-European initiative to limit emissions from one sector where they are still growing rapidly.

The third part of the triple-whammy Monday affected only one company: International Airlines Group (LON:ICAG) fell 1.8% as British Airways pilots began their biggest strike in over 40 years, in search of higher pay and better working conditions. That news had, however, been mostly priced in.

Elsewhere, Europe’s markets were mixed, with the benchmark STOXX 600 practically unchanged at 387.24. Italy's FTSE MIB led gains, up 0.3% to its highest level since late July. The U.K. FTSE 100 was down 0.1% along with the French CAC 40, while Germany’s DAX was up 0.2%.