Ryanair Wins Big On Results, Bets Big On Hedging

(Photo Credit: Lucas Davies/Unsplash)
(Photo Credit: Lucas Davies/Unsplash)

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Is it any surprise that the airline which sells in-flight scratch-offs hit the jackpot?

Ireland’s Ryanair announced on Monday it bagged a full-year net profit of €1.4 billion ($1.5 billion). The airline’s CEO Michael O’Leary told the Financial Times he wants the company to chase aggressive growth, and its earnings suggest a key tactic will involve a dash of gambler’s luck.

Cue “Danny Boy”

Ryanair has a reputation for two things in Europe: a distinctly sassy social media presence, and alarmingly cheap airfares. Some Ryanair tickets go for as little as €9.99, although tragically those ticket prices may now become a relic, CFO Neil Sorahan told Bloomberg. “The days of the 9.99s are possibly behind us for some time,” Sorahan said.

But exorbitant €20 tickets aren’t the only wind beneath Ryanair’s wings. O’Leary was keen to highlight the airline’s use of a practice called “fuel hedging,” which helped offset rising fuel prices in the company’s earnings report:

  • Fuel hedging is when a company places contracts for fuel in advance at a fixed rate. It’s essentially a bet that the cost of fuel is going to rise. If the price of fuel drops then the airline is out of luck.
  • Ryanair says it’s 80% hedged, which aviation analyst Sindy Foster tells The Daily Upside is a pretty hefty bet, as most airlines hedge between 30-64%. “It indicates they expect fuel prices to remain unstable and unpredictable, so by hedging a high percentage they minimize the risk. If they have called it wrong, it will be the opposite,” Foster said.

Although fuel hedging is a gamble, it also creates a sense of certainty. “If you have fixed a large percentage of your costs it gives you the ability to focus on generating maximum revenue at the right price to cover your costs and generate profit,” Foster said, adding: “You aren’t always chasing your tail as you would be with fluctuating fuel prices.” The returns can also be pretty staggering. Southwest Airlines and Air France-KLM said in August 2022 that they’d each saved around $1 billion from hedging.

Dogfight: O’Leary told the FT he wants Ryanair to run the competition out of town. “As long as we don’t do something stupid — which is a daily challenge in this industry — we will continue to wipe the floor with every other airline in Europe,” he said. Given Ryanair’s infamously spartan flights, it might have fliers wiping the floors of its planes soon, too.