Air Arabia eyes further cost cuts after first quarter profit falls by half

Air Arabia, the region's largest low cost carrier, may introduce further cost control measures as the pandemic shrinks global air travel. (Supplied)
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Updated 09 May 2021

Air Arabia eyes further cost cuts after first quarter profit falls by half

DUBAI: Air Arabia said it would adopt further cost control measures after reporting a 52 percent fall in first quarter net profit to 34 million dirhams ($9.25 million)
Revenues fell by more than a third to 572 million dirhams, compared to a year earlier, as the pandemic continued to weigh on regional air travel, the airline said in a statement on Sunday.
“The impact of COVID-19 pandemic on the global aviation industry remains material and of a changing nature, nonetheless, we have full confidence in the fundamentals and the strength of the aviation industry worldwide as well as the crucial role air travel will play in supporting regional and global economic recovery,” said Sheikh Abdullah Bin Mohamed Al-Thani, chairman of Air Arabia. “While we remain hopeful that air travel restrictions will ease with the increasing rate of vaccination drives across key markets, Air Arabia remains focused on adopting further measures to control costs and support business continuity during this period while we continue to resume operations where possible.”
Regional carriers have struggled to boost passengers numbers amid continuing travel restrictions and a resurgence of the virus in countries such as India which has traditionally strong air travel links with the Gulf.
More than 1.3 million passengers flew with Air Arabia between January and March 2021 across the carrier’s five hubs while the airline’s average seat load factor – or passengers carried as a percentage of available seats – during the first three months of 2021 stood at 77 percent.


Harsh reality of net-zero commitments under scrutiny

Updated 17 October 2021

Harsh reality of net-zero commitments under scrutiny

  • Call to set clear goals for cutting greenhouse gas emissions

LONDON: The current spike in oil and gas prices could not have come at a worse time. On the eve of the UN COP26 global climate conference in Scotland this month, soaring energy prices are resulting in increased investor interest in fossil fuel companies.

The S&P 500 energy sector is up around 50 percent this year and has been the wider index’s best-performing group.

Indeed, a recent report stated financial institutions in the G20 are carrying almost $22 trillion of exposure to carbon-intensive sectors despite increasing pressure for companies to disinvest in polluting industries.

The report, by Moody’s Investors Service, warned banks and asset managers need to “ramp up” climate risk assessments and “set clear goals for reaching net-zero in their financed emissions.”

Moody’s warning comes after the London Financial Times reported this week that global banks have refused to commit to the International Energy Agency’s road map for cutting greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050.

The FT said negotiators for the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero, an initiative led by UN special envoy for climate action and finance Mark Carney to encourage finance groups to stop funding fossil fuel companies, have struggled to convince banks to agree to end financing of all new oil, gas and coal exploration projects this year.

Many analysts believe the huge rises in gas and oil prices is evidence of the risks of phasing out fossil fuel production too quickly while renewable energy remains unable to pick up the slack of global demand.

Earlier this year, Saudi Arabia’s Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman criticized the IEA’s call for the energy sector to be net zero by 2050, calling it a “la-la-land” scenario.

Last week, Qatari Energy Minister Saad Al-Kaabi criticized governments for making statements about eliminating emissions without adopting clear plans to achieve net-zero.

Al-Kaabi’s comments followed an announcement by Dubai’s ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, that the country planned to become the first Middle East oil producer to achieve net zero by 2050.

The UAE’s emissions averaged almost 21 metric tons per person in 2018.

As a comparison, the figure in France, which is also committed to net zero by 2050, is 4.6.

Along with the UAE, Russia and Turkey also announced recently that they could be net-zero by 2060 and 2053 respectively although there were no details outlining they will move their economies away from fossil fuels.

The move follows EU plans to impose a carbon-border tariff that could force Russian and Turkish companies to pay for excess emissions in key industries.

However, for Russia to achieve net-zero by 2060 would require a massive overhaul of its economy.

Russia’s oil and gas sales contribute between 15 to 20 percent of the country’s GDP and fossil fuel exports account for more than 50 percent of all exports. The country’s coal industry contributes around 12 percent to GDP.

Achieving net-zero in Russia by 2060 will require a 65 percent reduction in its emissions according to research institute the World Resources Institute. Yet Russia’s most recent submission to the UN under the Paris Agreement suggested its emissions would increase 30 percent by the end of the decade compared to 1990 levels.

Meanwhile Turkey, which last week became the last G20 country to ratify the Paris accord, would have to slash its emissions by around 30 percent by the end of the decade to reach its 2053 target. The WRI had forecast Turkey was set to double its current emissions by the end of the decade.

While governments step up their commitments to sustainability to fend off new regulations and respond to growing pressure from investors the reality looks very different.

Moody’s report said G20 banks’ exposure to carbon-intensive sectors amounted to $13.8 trillion, while equities held by asset managers were worth $6.6 trillion.

Regionally, Asia and the Americans led the way with $9 trillion and $8 trillion respectively, with EMEA accounting for $5 trillion. There was no country breakdown.

By sector, manufacturing, power and other utilities, transportation, and oil and gas feature heavily among the G20 financial institutions’ top carbon-intensive exposures.

Companies and governments remain under increasing pressure from both climate-focused regulations and shareholder pressure to disinvest in polluting industries.

However, in a report published last month the WRI said G20 countries still account for 75 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Helen Mountford, vice president, Climate & Economics, WRI said: “Action or inaction by G20 countries will largely determine whether we can avoid the most dangerous and costly impacts of climate change.”


Work on NEOM’s green hydrogen plant likely to start in H1 2022

Updated 17 October 2021

Work on NEOM’s green hydrogen plant likely to start in H1 2022

  • What we have already said is that we will be dispatching liquid ammonia into the market in the first quarter of 2026, so that’s already there: ACWA Power CEO

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s energy company, ACWA Power, expects construction work on its green hydrogen plant in NEOM to start in the first half of 2022, according to the company’s CEO.

“This is the first project of that scale and quite a lot of work had to be done for the first time. So, we are very much in it, and we are already in even doing some work in advance purchases of long lead items for construction. So, there is quite a lot of activity that is going on,” Paddy Padmanathan told Arab News in an interview.

The CEO of ACWA expected to also see the financial closing of the project, a joint venture with NEOM Co. and American industrial gas company Air Products, taking place in the first half of the next year. The joint venture had hired financial firm Lazard to advise on the project, he told Arab News last month.   

“We are going to full construction as soon as we have achieved the financial closure. What we have already said is that we will be dispatching liquid ammonia into the market in the first quarter of 2026, so that’s already there,” he added.

ACWA Power, which debuted on Saudi Arabia’s stock market on Oct. 4, expects to finalize in the first quarter of next year billions of dollars in financing for a green hydrogen joint venture at the planned futuristic city NEOM, ACWA’s CEO told Reuters last week, adding that roughly 20 percent of the $6.5 billion project will be funded with equity and the rest will be limited-recourse project finance.

Padmanathan believes that NEOM’s project will be a game changer for the Kingdom and the company as it will help ACWA expand into that industry once it’s completed. The plant will need around 4.3 GW of clean energy to power it and ACWA plans to use solar in the day and wind in the night to eliminate the need for batteries and expensive storage solutions, he told Arab News.

In July 2020, Air Products, in conjunction with ACWA Power and NEOM, announced the signing of an agreement for a $5 billion world-scale green hydrogen-based ammonia production facility powered by renewable energy. The planning and design phases are currently underway to start construction in NEOM’s new industrial city.

This joint venture is the first step for the NEOM region to become a key player in the global hydrogen market. The business is expected to build an environmentally friendly hydrogen production facility to provide sustainable solutions for the global transport sector and to meet the challenges of climate change.

The project, which will be equally owned by the three partners, will export hydrogen in the form of liquid ammonia to the world market for use as a biofuel that feeds transportation systems.

It will produce 650 tons of carbon-free hydrogen per day and 1.2 million tons of green ammonia per year, reducing carbon dioxide emissions by the equivalent of 3 million tons per year.

ACWA Power, which operates in 13 countries, is bidding for renewable energy projects in Uzbekistan, Egypt, South Africa and Indonesia, as well as a large pipeline of projects in Saudi Arabia, the CEO said.

The company, which the Public Investment Fund is a key shareholder in, uses project finance to fund all of its projects but it will continue investing around SR2.8 billion a year of its own money into these projects to keep growing, Padamanthan told Arab News last month.

ACWA Power is planning projects this year with a total investment cost of around $16 billion, ACWA’s CFO told Arab News in July.


After Alitalia’s demise, ITA airline launches with new look

Updated 15 October 2021

After Alitalia’s demise, ITA airline launches with new look

  • ITA, or Italy Air Transport, officially launched after bankrupt flag carrier Alitalia landed its final flights Thursday night
  • Protests and strikes accompanied the runup to Alitalia's formal demise because the much smaller ITA Airways

ROME: Italy’s new national airline, ITA Airways, flew its inaugural flights Friday and unveiled its brand and logo, recycling the red, white and green of its Alitalia origins. It tries to chart a new future while competing with low-cost airlines.
ITA, or Italy Air Transport, officially launched after bankrupt flag carrier Alitalia landed its final flights Thursday night, ending a 74-year business history that a series of financial crises had marred in recent years.
Protests and strikes accompanied the run-up to Alitalia’s formal demise because the much smaller ITA Airways is only hiring around a quarter of Alitalia’s more than 10,000 employees. Negotiations with unions are ongoing.
ITA paid 90 million euros (over $104 million) for the rights to the Alitalia brand and website, but the new airline is called ITA Airways and it has its own website and a new frequent flier program, called “Volare” (“Fly”).
“Discontinuity doesn’t mean denying the past, but evolving to keep up with the times,” ITA President Alfredo Altavilla said in a statement.
During a conference launching the airline, Altavilla insisted that the greatly reduced size of ITA — its slimmer fleet, workforce and destinations — make it a viable carrier that can compete with low-cost airlines while offering better service, connections and value.
“ITA Airways is being born right-sized, in the optimal dimensions both in terms of the size of its fleet and its destinations,” he said. “We don’t carry with us the negative inheritance of being too big that conflict with the economic reality.”
He bristled when asked about reported predictions by low-cost carriers of ITA Airways’ failure.
“They might be very, absolutely right that this is gonna be difficult for us, but I am really curious to see one day their PnL (Profits and Loss) and their balance sheet without all the subsidies that they are getting from the local institutions and the small airports here in Italy,” Altavilla said.
“I want a level playing field,” he added.
The first ITA flight was the 6:20 a.m. from Milan’s Linate airport to the Italian city of Bari, on the Adriatic Sea. In all, ITA is flying to 44 destinations and aims to increase that number to 74 in four years.
Among its routes, the company plans to operate flights to New York from Milan and Rome, and to Tokyo, Boston and Miami from Rome. European destinations from Rome and Milan’s Linate airport will also include Paris, London, Amsterdam, Brussels, Geneva and Frankfurt, Germany. Routes to South America and Los Angeles are planned.
ITA planes will be royal blue with Alitalia’s trademark “tricolore” on the tail, reflecting the red, white and green of the Italian flag. The Italian national sports team colors are blue, and company officials said Friday that the color scheme chosen for the new aircraft aims to make ITA “azzurri,” — the team nickname — too.
For now, the new blue Airbus aircraft exists only in advertisements, with Alitalia’s old white fleet actually in the skies.
Officials were coy about possible partnerships with other airlines. Previously, Alitalia was a member of the SkyTeam alliance, which included Delta, Air France and KLM, among other airlines.
ITA has 52 planes that it says will grow to 105 in the same period and is pointing to next-generation aircraft that use sustainable, alternative fuel sources.
The company launched with 2,800 employees — 70 percent of them from Alitalia — and said it expects to increase the size of its workforce to 5,750 by 2025.


Brent tops $85 as Saudi oil minister vows to stick to output plan

Updated 15 October 2021

Brent tops $85 as Saudi oil minister vows to stick to output plan

  • Oil could reach $100 a barrel as demand rises, Russian President Vladimir Putin said

RIYADH: Brent crude passed $85 a barrel and WTI was headed for an eighth consecutive weekly advance as Saudi Oil Minister Abdulaziz bin Salman Al Saud insisted OPEC+ will stick to its plan to increase output at a steady pace in the coming months.

Brent gained 1 percent to $84.82 a barrel at 3:33 p.m. Riyadh time, headed for a 3 percent weekly gain. They earlier touched $85.10, a three-year high. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) also gained 1 percent, to $82.12, 3.5 percent higher on the week.

OPEC+, the alliance of OPEC and non-OPEC producers led by Saudi Arabia and Russia, would be adding 400,000 barrels per day (bpd) in November, and then again in the following months, the Kingdom’s energy minister told delegates at Russian Energy Week on Thursday.

While the market is tight today, it is set to be return to balance by the end of the year and be in surplus during 2022, according to OPEC forecasts.

The benefits of the approach OPEC+ has taken can be seen in the steady increase in the price of oil this year compared with the wild price swings in other markets, he said.

“What we see in the oil market today is an incremental (price) increase of 29 percent, vis-à-vis 500 percent increases in (natural) gas prices, 300 percent increases in coal prices, 200 percent increases in NGLs (natural gas liquids) ...,” he said. OPEC+ has done a “remarkable” job acting as “so-called regulator of the oil market.”

Such has been the success of OPEC+, other commodity markets should adopt similar arrangements, he said.

“Gas markets, coal markets, and other energy sources need to be regulated, people need to copy and paste what OPEC has done and what OPEC+ has achieved,” the Saudi minister added.

Saudi Arabia has proposed that Russia consider the possibility of cooperating in the natural gas market, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak said on Thursday, according to TASS news agency.

Oil prices were also supported by a bullish demand forecast from the International Energy Agency on Thursday, which predicted the energy crunch will boost crude demand by 500,000 barrels per day.

That would result in a supply gap of around 700,000 bpd through the end of this year, until the OPEC+ adds more supply as planned in January.

The structure of Brent crude oil futures is showing a “scarcity premium” that has widened to the most since 2013 this week, a sign of the tight market underpinning oil’s rally amid a wider energy crunch as economies recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The premium of the immediate Brent crude contract to the December 2022 price stood at $8.13 a barrel on Friday after reaching $8.30 on Monday. The value on Monday was the highest since 2013, according to Refinitiv Eikon data.

Also at Russian Energy Week, Putin said it was “quite possible” oil prices could climb above $100 as energy demand rises.

He also used an interview at the forum to deny Russia is using gas as a geopolitical weapon and instead is ready to help Europe with additional energy supplies.


Saudi non-oil exports surge to record $33.4bn in H1 2021

Updated 15 October 2021

Saudi non-oil exports surge to record $33.4bn in H1 2021

  • Non-oil exports jumped 37 percent to a record SR125.3 billion
  • Saudi Arabia exported to 170 countries in the first half

RIYADH: Saudi non-oil exports jumped 37 percent to a record SR125.3 billion ($33.4 billion) in the first half of 2021, SPA reported.

Non-oil exports were SR91.7 billion in the first half of 2020.

They increase by 8 percent in quantity, equivalent to 34.7 million tons, suggesting a rebound in prices as volumes returned to normal.

Global trade collapsed last year as the COVID-19 pandemic forced much of the world into lockdown. However, trade has rebounded strongly this year and last week the WTO upgraded its forecast for global merchandise trade volume growth to 10.8 percent in 2021 and 4.7 percent in 2022.

Saudi Arabia exported to 170 countries in the first half, led by SR17.0 billion of goods to the UAE, followed by SR16.8 billion to China, and SR7.1 billion to India.

The petrochemical sector was the biggest source of exports with a value of SR73.6 billion in the period, up from SR51.2 billion during the same period last year, representing growth of 44 percent.

The H1 report follows data from the General Authority for Statistics that showed July’s non-oil exports increased 17.9 percent year on year to SR20.8 billion.

The total value of exports amounted to SR91.8 billion in July 2021, up from 51.1 billion riyals in July 2020, led by a 112.1 percent increase in oil exports.

However, oil exports continued to dominate Saudi trade with crude’s share increasing from 65.5 percent in July 2020 to 77.4 percent in July 2021.

Saudi Arabia is pushing to increase non-oil exports as it seeks to ween its economy off dependency on oil sales with a goal of raising the percentage of non-oil exports to 50 percent by 2030 and foreign direct investment from 3.8 percent to an international average of 5.7 percent.

The Kingdom is in negotiations with 11 countries on possible free-trade agreement, including China, India, Pakistan, Australia, New Zealand, Britain, Indonesia, the Philippines, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and the US.

The Kingdom aims to export services including transport, distribution, professional and financial services, communication services, postal services as well as express mail, media, hotel, construction and contracting, education and training, travel and tourism, environmental, and entertainment.

In August, the Saudi Export Development Authority said more than 900 Saudi companies with over 2,000 locally manufactured products had registered with the Kingdom’s “Made in Saudi” program, an initiative to boost the competitiveness of Saudi products at home and abroad.

The program gives top priority to 16 different economic sectors including chemicals and polymers, building materials, electronics, and packaging.

Additionally, the Saudi Exports Development Authority said in August it will identify over 120 international tendering opportunities in a number of target countries, mainly covering construction and industrial supplies and infrastructure projects.

In the same month, The Saudi Export-Import Bank signed a memorandum of understanding with the Federation of Saudi Chambers to provide importers and exporters loans and other financial services.