British Airways owner IAG SA dangled the prospect of resuming dividend payments for the first time after the Covid-19 pandemic as soaring travel demand helps repair its balance sheet.
The airline group, which also owns Spain’s Iberia alongside other carriers, said it would reinstate the payment once its balance sheet and investment plans were secure, according to a stock exchange filing ahead of a meeting with investors on Tuesday. The company said in a video on its website that returning money to shareholders is a key priority in the medium to long-term, adding that it is also looking at opportunities to acquire other businesses.
“We are looking to consolidate the industry but once we’ve looked at the opportunities that are out there for inorganic growth, any excess cash that we have, we will also look to return that back to our shareholders,” Chief Financial Officer Nicholas Cadbury said.
IAG dropped as much as 2.7%, reversing earlier gains of as much as 1.1%. The stock has risen about 29% this year.
IAG last paid out a dividend in 2019, and scrapped a planned payout in 2020 at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. Earlier this month, Ryanair Holdings Plc said it will pay a dividend of €400 million ($430 million) and plans to hand over about a quarter of annual profit to shareholders.
In a presentation for investors, the airline group also mentioned share buyback and special dividends as ways to give returns to shareholders. IAG set medium-term targets of an operating margin of 12%-15% and a return on invested capital of 13%-16%. The company said in its investor presentation that it will invest 2.5 billion euros in customer experience over the next three years, and 1.7 billion euros in IT and digital.
The airline group wants to rebuild its fleet to 2019 levels by 2025, and plans to invest 8 billion euros in fleet replacement and about 900 million euros in fleet growth. British Airways retired its fleet of 31 Boeing Co. 747s during the pandemic, and the company said when it reported third-quarter results last month that the lack of capacity was slowing its return to pre-Covid levels of flying.
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