Tue, Feb 03, 2004 - Page 11 News List

Airlines seen as good bets

FLYING HIGH Some analysts predict fantastic returns for China Airlines and EVA Airways as direct links are seen as likely and SARS begins to recede in the rearview mirror

BLOOMBERG

Some analysts say that shares of China Airlines Co (華航) and EVA Airways Corp (長榮) may post gains of as much as 25 percent this month as profits rebound from last year's SARS-induced slump.

Some investors are also betting on a political breakthrough with Beijing that would allow the carriers to fly to China.

"Airline stocks are catching up in view of the improving fundamental demand," said Jovi Chen, a fund manager at HSBC Asset Management Taiwan in Taipei.

"There's also optimism on better China-Taiwan ties," Chen said.

The two governments "are moving toward direct links" in aviation and shipping, said Chen, adding that he has bought China Airlines and EVA Airways shares for that reason.

Shares of China Airlines have surged 25 percent this month, helped by preliminary profit figures for last year that indicate fourth-quarter net income surged by half from a year previous to about NT$1.3 billion (US$39 million).

EVA Airways shares have climbed 23 percent in the same period.

The airlines' gains are about three times this month's 8.2 percent increase in the benchmark TAIEX index.

Last year's SARS outbreak forced airlines to cancel flights as travelers stayed home. The number of people visiting Taiwan last year slumped 25 percent to 2.25 million, while the number of Taiwanese traveling overseas dropped 19 percent to 5.92 million.

That slashed full-year profit at China Airlines to about NT$1.7 billion from NT$3.1 billion a year earlier, and at EVA Airways to about NT$1.1 billion from NT$2.6 billion, according to unaudited figures provided by the companies.

Business for the airlines has since rebounded, helped by cargo demand from Taiwan's electronics makers.

"The two airlines' fundamental performance in the first half, at least, will be very good compared with last year, when there was SARS," said Vincent Yen of Capital Securities Investment Trust Co (群益投信) in Taipei, which oversees US$4.1 billion of mutual funds.

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