Flush with taxpayer funds, Virgin remains quiet as it stakes out return to ASX

Almost every analyst, stock picker and broker on Eagle Street is already well versed in what could be the biggest float of the year, but the revitalised Virgin Australia is refusing to talk about its next move.

Feb 02, 2023, updated Feb 02, 2023
Virgin CEO Jayne Hrdlicka (Photo: QUT)

Virgin CEO Jayne Hrdlicka (Photo: QUT)

The Brisbane-based company, which has enjoyed the benefit of taxpayer funding through Covid assistance and the State Government’s $200 million investment, apparently told its staff this week that its first-half revenue would be around $2.5 billion with a margin of about 5 per cent. However, it won’t talk about that publicly.

A valuation of the company, which was bought by Bain Capital after being put into administration, is speculative, but Bain paid $731 million for the company and although it was likely to retain a stake, a float of the company was still likely to be substantial. The enterprise value of the company at the time was more than $3 billion.

Morgan’s also said that the travel sector had already had its recession.

However, Virgin has benefitted enormously from the boom in domestic travel, which has also helped Qantas recover and allowed fledgling regional airline Bonza to enter the market. How long that boom continues is also unknown, but international travel costs have been falling.

The fact that travel company Flight Centre paid $211 million for a British luxury travel company this week would indicate that the market is returning.

Morgan’s said this week that as global airline capacity recovered post-COVID, airfares would fall.

“This will drive an increase in the volume of people travelling, which will again eventually become a key driver of earnings for Qantas,” it said.

“With rising interest rates and inflation, investors have been sceptical on whether the currently strong demand environment will deteriorate.

“In our view, the travel sector has already had its recession with the largest ever downturn during COVID and will continue to rebound strongly over the coming months. If consumer budgets do start to feel the pressure, we think spend on travelling will be prioritised over other categories.”

In her note to staff, which was reported in national media, Virgin chief executive Jayne Hrdlicka said “we have taken this company to a position of real strength.”

She added that Virgin had “a robust strategy and resilient business model, reflected in strong market share and high loads”.

“We have grown our fleet by nearly 60 per cent over the last two years and will welcome brand-new 737-8 aircraft to the fleet this year. We are profitable and have the financial strength to invest in building resilience in our airline and supporting continued growth.”

“Bain Capital will be here with us for many years yet”, but there was “not much more we can share about this process right now”.

But Virgin has other troubles to deal with, including the potential for industrial action by staff.
The Australian Services Union said it had been negotiating with Virgin for seven months on a new pay deal. Virgin has offered a 9 per cent rise, but the union has said that was far too low and workers should consider industrial action.



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