“Lufthansa is back.”
Those are the enthusiastic opening remarks of Carsten Spohr, CEO of Deutsche Lufthansa, in the European airline’s earnings report for 2022.
I think it would be just as accurate to say that commercial aviation in general is back, with attractive investment opportunities.
Spohr reported that Lufthansa, Europe’s largest carrier group by revenue, achieved an “unprecedented turnaround” in 2022 on the back of increasing demand for air travel. Revenue of $34.5 billion was almost double what it collected in 2021, while free cash flow came in at $2.6 billion, the highest annual amount in the German company’s history. Shares were up approximately 5.3 percent in intraday trading on the news.
Lufthansa went on to announce it ordered 22 new long-haul aircraft from Airbus and Boeing, the company’s largest order since 2013.
As I’ve said before, as an investor, I like to see when a company invests in itself. It tells me that management is optimistic about the future and is positioning the company for growth.
That’s exactly what airlines are doing around the globe right now. According to Airlines for America, U.S. carriers are investing a record amount in new aircraft, equipment, information technology and more. Capital expenditures are forecast to hit $27.0 billion this year, which would be significantly higher than the $21.2 billion airlines are estimated to have spent in 2022.
Lufthansa’s blockbuster report is just the latest signal that commercial aviation, one of the hardest-hit industries during the pandemic, may be ready to make a landing again in investors’ portfolios.
Travel demand is surging as Europe, China and other key markets have dropped travel restrictions, and in the interim, carriers have adapted by streamlining operations, eliminating unprofitable routes and more. The actions appear to be working. Even though total passenger volume hasn’t fully recovered to pre-pandemic levels, operating revenues are soaring to new record highs, according to Bureau of Transportation Statistics data.
Domestic airlines have managed this without having to cut jobs at the same pace as the tech industry. In fact, passenger airlines in the United States currently have the largest workforce in 20 years.
Staff members are also producing more bang for their buck. Sales-per-employee for select carriers were higher in the past 12 months than in 2019, before the pandemic. This indicates the decision not to sacrifice customer service in the name of cost-cutting has been financially rewarding for airlines.
To me, that’s a win-win-win-win: a win for airlines, a win for employees, a win for customers and a win for investors.
Frank Holmes is CEO and CIO of U.S. Global Investors. The original version of this story appeared on U.S. Global Investors’ website. Read here.