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经济不景气,欧洲的航空公司纷纷寻求合并

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除了银行家和汽车商,很少有人能享受的起2008年的航空业务。首先是今年上半年的燃油费用大幅上涨,接着又出现全球性的经济衰退,根据国际航空运输协会(IATA)的统计今年的航空业至少损失了50亿美元。2008年里有30多家香港到美国的航空运营商破产。为了削减成本和提高收入,为了生存,运营商开始救助于合并,这种现象在欧洲尤其普遍。“这场游戏的名字是联合,”伦敦Exane BNP Paribas公司的航空分析师Geoff van Klaveren说到。

本月这场游戏正在疯狂进行着。12月1日,瑞安(Ryanair)出价10亿美元收购爱尔兰的爱尔林格斯(Aer Lingus)航空公司,这是多年来爱尔兰的这家廉价航空公司第二次收到这种报价。该爱尔兰航空公司拒绝了这次报价,但是公司董事会一直要等到1月5日才会做出决定。

12月1日,维尔京大西洋(Virgin Atlantic)航空公司表示正在与德国汉莎(Lufthansa)航空公司讨论关于收购BMI的问题,BMI公司是汉莎目前正在接管的一家英国航空公司。今年汉莎航空公司已经收购了奥地利航空公司42%的股份,并打算接着收购其余的部分,该公司在布鲁塞尔航空公司也有内似的份额,并打算通过该公司下属Cologne-based航空公司打入西非市场。英国航空公司正在和西班牙伊比利亚(Iberia)航空公司和澳大利亚快达(Qantas)航空公司讨论并购的问题。

所有这些动作都表明了该行业明年将面临的严峻形势。国际航空运输协会预期2009年航空业将额外损失25亿美元。并预测客运量在明年将下降3%,这是自2001年来的第一次下降。明年对于欧洲航空运营商来说将是黑暗的一年。在今年早些时候为了和美国同行竞争,降低不断上涨的燃油成本,欧洲航空公司现在却陷在了燃油合同里,最近几周燃油价格大幅度下跌,但欧洲航空公司并没有受益于此。在欧洲同行竞争力大幅下降的今天,美国的航空运营商却反应迅速。因此虽然今年美国的航空公司和大多数全球性行业一样都损失惨重,但是国际航空运输协会预测2009年它们将会扭亏为盈。而欧洲的航空公司的亏损额可能会增长10倍,到10亿美元。

当然,不是所有这些预测都会发生。伊比利亚和快达的老板都向英航提出与他们中的一方联合起来,在12月18日,快达和英航宣布谈判已经进入尾声,此前它们未能在“主要条款”上达成一致。欧洲航空公司的一个问题是,除了瑞安和汉莎航空公司,很少有公司有足够的资金,因此它们只能收购规模较小的同行。

分析人士说,这些航空公司缺乏资源和规模,只能找一家规模大的公司投靠。投靠法国KLM航空公司(欧洲最大的航空公司,仍然乐于持有处于困境的意大利Alitalia航空公司的少量股权),或者加入不断扩张的汉莎、英航和瑞安航空公司,这些都意味着“众多持有糟糕资产负债表的小型航空公司,他们将不得不加入到四巨头中的一方,”Exane BNP Paribas公司的 Van Klaveren说。斯堪的纳维亚航空公司就是其中之一,“它也许能度过2009年,但是我怀疑是否能度过2010年,”他说。在银行家和汽车商能因为太大到避免倒闭的现在,“欧洲每个国家都有一家航空公司的时代已经结束了。”

译文:In the Downturn, Europe's Airlines Scramble to Merge


Aside from bankers and automakers, few can claim as rough a ride in2008 as those in the airline business. Eye-watering fuel prices in thefirst half of the year and the onset of a global slump in the secondwill mean a $5 billion loss for the industry this year, according tothe International Air Transport Association (IATA). More than 30carriers from Hong Kong to the U.S. have gone under in 2008. Desperateto carriers are turning to mergers to survive, and nowhere is thathappening more than in Europe. "The name of the game," says Geoff vanKlaveren, an airlines analyst at Exane BNP Paribas in London, "isconsolidation."
This month the game is looking frenzied. On Dec. 1, Ryanair made a $1billion takeover bid for Irish flag carrier Aer Lingus, the second suchoffer from Ireland's no-frills airline in as many years. The Irishcarrier has rebuffed the offer, but shareholders have until Jan. 5 todecide.
On Dec. 10, Virgin Atlantic said it was in talks with Germany'sLufthansa over the future of BMI, a British airline that Lufthansa iscurrently taking over. This year the German carrier has taken a 42%stake in Austrian Airlines, with plans to pick up the rest later, and asimilar share in Brussels Airlines, which handed the Cologne-basedcarrier access to west Africa. British Airways has been talking toSpain's Iberia and about a merger.

All that activity reflects the grim prospects facing the industrynext year. IATA expects the world's airlines to lose an additional $2.5billion in 2009. Passenger traffic, it forecasts, will slide 3%, thefirst fall since 2001. Next year looks particularly bleak for Europeancarriers. Having hedged more than U.S. rivals against the spiralingfuel costs earlier this year, European airlines — now locked in to fuelcontracts — are less able to benefit from the steep slide in the priceof oil in recent weeks. American carriers have also reacted quickerthan European rivals when it comes to cutting back on capacity. Sowhile U.S. airlines account for most of the global industry's lossesthis year, IATA expects them to turn a profit in 2009. Losses in Europeare forecast to rise tenfold, to $1 billion.

Not all the deals will happen, of course. Bosses at both Iberia andQantas have warned BA that it can join forces with only one of them,and on Dec. 18, Qantas and BA said talks had come to an end after theairlines failed to agree on "key terms" of a deal. One of the problemsin Europe is that few airlines — Ryanair and Lufthansa are exceptions —have enough cash on hand to simply buy smaller rivals.

Those airlines lacking resources and scale may have little choicebut to yield to larger ones, analysts say. Alongside Air France-KLM —Europe's biggest airline and still a favorite to grab a minority stakein beleaguered Italian flag carrier Alitalia — and the ever growingLufthansa, an enlarged BA and Ryanair would mean "for most of thesmaller network airlines who have a very weak balance sheet, they'regoing to have to fold into one of those four groups," says Exane BNPParibas' Van Klaveren. Scandinavian Airlines (SAS), for one, "willsurvive 2009, but I doubt it can survive 2010 on its own," he says. Andwhile banks or carmakers can be too big to fail, "the days of everycountry in Europe having their own national airline are gone."


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