30 May 2021
Any views on the performance of SIA in the coming years (i.e. 5-10 years)?
My assigment 2 years ago
I would buy Singapore Airlines Limited (ticker symbol c6L.SI on Singapore Stock Exchange) at a price of SGD 6.59 or less per share because I understand the company; it’s good; and at SGD 6.59 per share, it’s inexpensive.”
Understanding the Business
The principal activities consist of passenger and cargo air transportation, engineering services, training of pilots, air charters and tour wholesaling and related activities. Looking at revenue from the different segments, majority of revenue (14.9 billion SGD) comes from passenger air transportation (12.5 billion SGD). The passenger air transportation can be divided into Singapore Airlines, SilkAir which flies mainly regional and Budget Aviation. For economy class tickets on Singapore Airlines and SilkAir and tickets on Budget Aviation, it is essentially a commodity business where price determines whether passengers choose to fly or not. However, for business class tickets and economic class tickets to a certain extent, it can be argued that Singapore Airlines compete by providing quality services as it was named top airline in the world.
Customers can be divided into both consumers and organizations. Consumers worldwide can buy tickets directly from the company or via third party (travel agencies or online web portal) Organizations especially those related to the government may prefer employees to choose Singapore Airlines when travelling on business or conference trips.
Singapore Airlines is primarily in the airline industry and its legal form is a limited liability company incorporated and domiciled in the Republic of Singapore. The Company is listed on the Singapore Exchange Securities Trading Limited (“SGX-ST”) and is a subsidiary company of Temasek Holdings (Private) Limited which is owned by the government of Singapore. Its operational form is a service provider that provides passenger and cargo air transportation.
The headquarter is in Singapore and revenue are from East Asia (58.6%), South West Pacific (15.3%) and Europe (13.7%). In 2017, Singapore Airlines embarked on its three-year Transformation Program, to ensure that it remains competitive and is better positioned for the future in a changing operating environment. Recently, it has partnered with Ali Baba to expand in China’s fast-growing travel market.
The capital employed in the business can be calculated by taking the difference between total assets and sum of non-interest-bearing liabilities. This has increased from 17.1 billion in 2014 to 21 billion in 2018. Removing cash, it has increased from 11.5 billion to 18.2 billion. This is largely due to the takeover of Tiger airways which is a budget airline that used to compete with SIA. The return on capital employed has improved from 1.0% to 4.5% (2014-2018) and excluding cash it would be from 1.4% to 5.2%.
Free cash flow is negative if we used capital expenditure, but I have chosen depreciation instead. It is imperfect, but I believe the truth is in between. FCFOCE has also improved from 3.1% to 4.6% (2014-2018) and excluding cash it would be from 3.1% to 5.4%
Δ OI/FDS has increased from 22.7% to 97.9% (2014-2018) but it was negative in 2017. Δ FCF/FDS is positive from 2014 to 2016 (growing) but is negative from 2017 onwards. (2017: -33.8% and 2018: -0.9%) Δ BV/FDS has increased from 1.2% in 2014 and 9.0% in 2018 and considering dividends paid (40 cents in 2014 and 30 cents in 2018), it is reasonable. The same picture is seen in Δ TBV/FDS as intangible assets consists of a small percentage of total assets. (2% in 2018) Finally liabilities-to-equity-ratio has increased from 0.67 in 2014 to 0.93 in 2018 which suggests a company that is not excessively leveraged.
SIA has a broad customer base which consists of both consumers and organizations, but supplier base is more concentration as there are relative few manufacturer of aircraft and SIA purchases from Boeing and Airbus. SIA also hedge fuel costs so it is less affected by rise in fuel costs, but it is also locked into higher prices if fuel costs fall. The bargaining power of customers is weak as there is a broad base of customers, difficulty in consumers building their own aircrafts to fly and high switching costs as consumers will lose their membership benefits if they switch to a different airline not in the same alliance as SIA.
The bargaining power of suppliers is strong as there are few aircraft manufacturers to choose from, but forward integration is difficulty for aircraft manufacturers. Switching costs is relatively high as SIA would need to continue to engage Boeing and Airbus for maintenance of current aircrafts.
The threat of substitutes is a strong as budget airlines (direct substitutes) threaten to deliver similar services at low prices. In this global world, it would be difficult for consumers to do without flying. Other options would be to travel by ships, railways but time taken is usually longer and this is not always possible.
The threat of new entrants is weak as SIA has economies of scale and a successful membership program which prevent consumers from switching. Airline industry is also highly regulated and requires huge capital to purchase or lease aircraft to fly. It is also the only full-service airline based in Singapore and after purchasing a competitor budget airline Tiger Airways, it is the only airline based in Singapore.
SIA is partially owned by the government of Singapore and the membership program has accumulated large number of customers. The cost structure of SIA is not low, but it is improving as it sought to merge departments from SIA and Silk Air (regional airline) together. The SIA brand is strong and is recognized worldwide and switching costs would be substantial as points accumulated under the membership program would be lost. In summary, SIA enjoys a moat.
SIA market is growing as ASIA is growing richer and would like to fly so the budget airline division would be increasing and as they grow richer they may want to upgrade to a full-service airline and even fly business or first class.
The CEO is the highest paid and was paid $4.3 million dollars which is 0.4% of operating income and 0.4% of free cash flow. He also owns 889,554 shares which is 0.07% of total outstanding shares. There is no recent insider transaction despite SIA prices falling. Related-party transaction account for 1 billion dollars and is disclosed briefly in the annual report. There is no recent share buyback and the last share buyback was in 2016 when prices were much higher. (SGD10.57) For dividends, Singapore does not tax dividends in the hand of shareholders so distributing dividends is a tax-efficient way to reward shareholdings assuming no better use of money. Dividends has decreased from 40 cents in 2014 to 30cents in 2018 suggesting that SIA has better use for funds as shown by the increase in capital expenditure in 2018 compared to 2014.
SIA is cheap when we use MCAP/BV (0.81) or MCAP/TBP (0.82). However, if we look at MCAP/FCF (11.9) or EV/OI (13.0). Both are expensive. For MCAP/FCF to be reduced to 8, the price must fall from SGD9.80 to SGD6.59. Otherwise, free cash flow must also increase for it to be attractive. As mentioned previously, I had used depreciation rather than capital expenditure to calculate free cash flow, so it would be even more expensive if I had considered capital expenditure instead.
Similarly, for EV/OI to be reduced to 7, enterprise value must be reduced by 53.8% (7/13.0 *100%) or operating income must increase by 53.8%. (13.0/7 x 100%) Enterprise value can be reduced by reduction in market capitalization (share price fall or reduction in number of shares through share buy-back), decrease in debts or increase in cash and cash equivalent.
In summary, share price must fall for SIA to be considered or operating income must improve for SIA to be considered an investment. Operating income is highly affected by fuel costs which it has mitigated by hedging.
Operating profit in 1Q 2018 nosedived to $193.1 million, down by more than half of the $404.6 million previously, as net fuel costs rose by $154 million. Fuel costs before hedging actually rose by $312 million, but half of this increase was mitigated by hedging gains.
Secondly staff costs have been reduced by introducing a scheme for air stewardess to volunteer for no pay leave for up to 3 months to reduce staff costs in 2017. By consolidating, SIA and SilkAir, it introduces opportunity to further streamline operations and reduce costs further.
Thirdly, SIA has announced a comprehensive strategic collaboration with Alibaba Group to enhance the customer experience for travelers. The partnership extends across areas such as flight ticket sales, loyalty programs, marketing initiatives, cloud services, payments and logistics.
I shall end with a quote from Warren Buffett about the need for capital for airlines. While airline companies have not been good companies, the low price may be enticing for value investors but long-term performance is suspect.
“The airline industry’s demand for capital ever since that first flight has been insatiable. Investors have poured money into a bottomless pit, attracted by growth when they should have been repelled by it. And I, to my shame, participated in this foolishness when I had Berkshire buy U.S. Air preferred stock in 1989. As the ink was drying on our check, the company went into a tailspin, and before long our preferred dividend was no longer being paid. But we then got very lucky. In one of the recurrent, but always misguided, bursts of optimism for airlines, we were actually able to sell our shares in 1998 for a hefty gain. In the decade following our sale, the company went bankrupt. Twice. To sum up, think of three types of 'savings accounts.' The great one pays an extraordinarily high interest rate that will rise as the years pass. The good one pays an attractive rate of interest that will be earned also on deposits that are added. Finally, the gruesome account both pays an inadequate interest rate and requires you to keep adding money at those disappointing returns.” Warren Buffett
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As SIA just had its rights issue, SIA will unlikely reach its glorious days of $9-10 per share. Hone...
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