Budget airline Ryanair reported record profits Monday as its recession-resistant business model continued to attract passengers from higher-fare carriers amid Europe's debt crisis.
The Dublin-based airline said its net profit for the fiscal year ending March 31 rose nearly 50 percent to (EURO)560.4 million ($715 million), the highest figure ever for the 27-year-old airline.
Ryanair _ known for its brash boss and its in-your-face advertising style _ did offer a typically cautious outlook. It forecast that passenger numbers in the current fiscal year would rise a further 5 percent to 79 million, chiefly in the peak April-September period, but rising fuel costs were likely to weaken profits to an annual net figure of between (EURO)400 million and (EURO)440 million.
Ryanair usually beats its targets, but investors dumped the shares, particularly over its warning of higher oil costs and weaker profits in the peak months of 2012. Shares fell 5 percent to (EURO)3.81 ($4.87) in early trade on the Irish Stock Exchange.
Sales rose 21 percent to (EURO)4.39 billion even though the number of passengers carried rose just 5 percent to 75.8 million, reflecting ticket prices that were 16 percent higher on average. Fuel costs rose 30 percent to nearly (EURO)1.6 billion because of higher oil prices and Ryanair's continuing expansion of its route network and all-Boeing 737 fleet.
Excluding exceptional items and taxes, Ryanair's operating profit rose 40 percent to (EURO)683.2 million ($873 million).
Its non-ticket income _ raised on everything from checked bags to online hotel bookings and on-board lottery tickets _ rose 11 percent to (EURO)886 million and now represents 21 percent of the airline's total sales.
Reflecting the record profits, chief executive Michael O'Leary said the airline planned to pay stockholders an exceptional dividend of (EURO)0.34 ($0.43) per share. Ryanair normally pays no dividends but can easily afford one, since its cash pile grew 34 percent over the year to (EURO)2.7 billion, a staggering figure given the wave of bankruptcies and losses affecting the industry as a whole.
"The combination of rising oil prices and EU-wide recession has accelerated the rate of change in the competitive landscape," O'Leary said, noting the failures of Spanish carrier Spanair in January, Hungary's Malev in February and Denmark's Cimber Sterling this month.
"Ryanair has responded tactically to these developments by opening a new base in Budapest, (and) expanding bases in Spain, Scandinavia and provincial UK, to maximize capacity and minimize airfares for local consumers (and) visitors," he said. "We expect more European failures in 2012 as higher oil prices and recession continue to expose failed airline models as well as subscale or peripheral carriers."
Ryanair earnings, http://bit.ly/KV96aj