Ryanair bid hits Aer Lingus profits

Spending tens of millions of euro fighting Ryanair’s takeover bids is hitting Aer Lingus’s profits and resulting in a lower dividend for shareholders, according to Aer Lingus chief executive Christoph Müller

Pre-tax profits at Aer Lingus were more than halved as the airline continued to fight against a takeover attempt by Ryanair. It did boost its full-year dividend by 25% (1c) to 4c a share.

In defence costs alone, the takeover attempt by Ryanair has cost Aer Lingus just short of €10m this year.

Mr Müller said that the dividend increase would have been higher than a single cent if the company was not burdened with the cost of take over defences.

“Increasing legal costs in the tens of million are necessary, but we would have preferred to announce a bigger dividend increase of 3c instead of expensing it on defence,” he said.

Mr Müller was withering about Ryanair’s proposal to the European authorities. Ryanair has proposed to create Flybe Ireland, which would receive €100m and nine aircraft from Ryanair and commit to operating 43 routes for at least three years if Ryanair’s bid for Aer Lingus succeeds.

“Flybe is nothing but a tool being orchestrated by Ryanair and British Airways,” said Müller.

“You can not give a carte blanche to a competitor and then compensate them for any losses that they suffer.”

A spokesperson for Flybe rejected that the company was a tool in a larger battle, but that the company has a strong balance sheet and refutes any suggestion that it is a pawn.

Mr Müller said that the deal might be enough to satisfy Brussels but a look at Flybe’s unit cost shows there is no way that they can compete with Ryanair. He said Flybe’s unit cost was three times that of Ryanair’s and once the three year period was over, Ryanair would be easily able to take Flybe out.

A decision from the European Commission on the bid is due by Mar 6.

Merrion Capital analyst David Holohan said the chances of EU approval of the merger had increased significantly in recent weeks but were no higher than 40%-50%.

Despite the concentration and speculation on the Ryanair deal, Mr Müller said Aer Lingus taking little notice of it. The increase in revenues from €1.3bn to €1.4bn in 2012 as a result of more long-haul passengers was evidence that the company was getting on with the day-to-day business of running an airline, he said. “If we were distracted by this bid, we would not have performed so well.”

Aer Lingus also released passenger numbers which showed an increase of 3.6% to 638,000 last month compared to Jan 2012.

Short-haul passengers were 583,000, an increase of 2.8% on Jan 2012, while long-haul passengers were 55,000, up 12.2% on Jan 2012.

Mr Müller said that a much bigger issue from Aer Lingus perspective was the UK competition commission investigation into Ryanair’s holding in Aer Lingus. The outcome of the investigation, which could result in Ryanair being forced to divest its stake in Aer Lingus, was a of much greater significance, he said.

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