Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

Norwegian Could Sell Leasing Unit, Jets to Meet Cash Needs

  • Leasing unit won’t be sold before 2019 as it awaits more Neos
  • CFO dismisses speculation about looming liquidity crunch

Norwegian Air Shuttle ASA said it has the flexibility to raise cash through the disposal of its leasing unit and additional sales of its Boeing Co. and Airbus SE aircraft, pushing back on suggestions from Ryanair Holdings Plc Chief Executive Officer Michael O’Leary that the company could face a financial crunch.

While the ambitious Oslo-based carrier has received interest from bidders for its plane-leasing unit, there’s no immediate plans for a deal, Chief Financial Officer Tore Ostby said Thursday in an interview. The company is unlikely to seriously consider a sale before 2019 or 2020, after it receives the bulk of the 100 A320neo jets it has on order. 

Tore Ostby in London on Sept. 7.

Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

“We have been pretty open about our position and showed that we have the strongest liquidity we’ve ever had,” Ostby said on the sidelines of the Aviation Festival in London. “The broader picture is we’ve been profitable for 10 years,” he said, adding “there’s no reason to be worried about our liquidity or strength.”

Norwegian has been rapidly expanding capacity as it introduces low-cost long-haul services on trans-Atlantic routes. It’s also adding new ventures including a short-haul operation in Argentina. Part of its strategy had been to support growth through cash from its leasing operation, which has been disrupted by Pratt & Whitney’s shaky roll-out of the Neo engines. Those issues have pushed back deliveries as much as two years, according to Ostby.

Liquidity Fears

The carrier is adding 32 new aircraft in 2017 and will almost double its Boeing 787 Dreamliner fleet this year, with the speed of expansion increasing concerns about the company’s strategy. In August, more than 23 percent of its stock was sold short in a bet on falling share prices. O’Leary fed those fears earlier this month, when he said it’s an “open secret” that Norwegian may struggle to stay in operation.

Ostby dismissed the comments as having “no root in reality.” To pad its coffers, the airline has already sold 11 of its Boeing 737 jets and cut its stake in Norwegian Finans Holding ASA, the owner of an online bank in Norway.

Norwegian shares jumped as much as 5.8 percent and were up 4.2 percent at 12:51 p.m. in Oslo, paring the drop for the year to 28 percent.

Norwegian’s leasing operation has the “newest fleet in Europe” and “a lot of orders very early in the book,” which makes the business attractive to bidders, the CFO said, adding that about half of the airline’s fleet is owned by the unit. The company may also reduce its remaining Norwegian Finans stake and is considering further sales of both A320neos on lease and older generation 737s if necessary.

Winter Bookings

The company is expecting delivery of another two A320neo jets this year, adding to three it has in operation with Hong Kong Express. That compares to an original schedule that had called for 12 of the latest generation Airbus narrowbody jet to be delivered this year. United Technologies Corp.’s Pratt has to replace all engines on aircraft Norwegian already has in operation, Ostby said.

Amid the operational challenges, bookings for the winter period are “better than last year,” Ostby said, declining to be more specific. Performance in the key summer months was “pretty good,” he said, with revenue flat to down 1 percent at constant exchange rates.

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