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Cathay Pacific Posts Record $2.8 Billion Annual Loss, Focuses On Preserving Cash

Cathay's passenger numbers fell by 98.7% compared with a year earlier, though cargo carriage was down by a smaller 32.3%.

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Hong Kong's Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd said on Wednesday it was focused on preserving cash after it posted a record annual loss of HK$21.65 billion ($2.79 billion), caused by a travel downturn, restructuring costs and fleet writedowns.

The 2020 loss compared with 2019 profit of HK$1.69 billion and was worse than an average forecast for a net loss of HK$19.9 billion by 13 analysts, according to Refinitiv.

"The pace of the recovery remains uncertain and the group is still very much in survival mode," Cathay Chairman Patrick Healy told reporters. "Managing cash prudently remains a priority."

Cathay lacks a domestic market at a time when international borders are largely closed because of the coronavirus pandemic. In December, Cathay's passenger numbers fell by 98.7% compared with a year earlier, though cargo carriage was down by a smaller 32.3%.

Nearly 60% of its 2020 revenue of HK$47.9 billion was from its cargo operations, up from about 20% in 2019.

The airline said in January it would cut passenger capacity by 60% and cargo capacity by 25% as a result of new rules that required crew to quarantine for two weeks in hotels before returning to normal life in Hong Kong that took effect on Feb. 20.

As a result, Cathay has put most crew on voluntary rosters of three weeks flying, two weeks in a hotel and two weeks off at home.

Cathay said the quarantine rules would increase cash burn by about HK$300 million to HK$400 million per month, on top of earlier HK$1 billion to HK$1.5 billion levels.

"There is as yet no indication how long these measures remain in place," Healy said.

The airline is encouraging staff to get vaccinated to aid in talks with the Hong Kong government about easing quarantine rules, he said.

Cathay in January issued HK$6.74 billion of convertible bonds to shore up liquidity.

In its financial accounts, Cathay said it had enough liquidity to last at least 12 months even under extended downside scenarios and Healy said it would look at raising further funds in the commercial market in coming months.

Cathay in October said it would cut 5,900 jobs to help it weather the pandemic, including nearly all of the positions at its regional airline Cathay Dragon, which it shut down.

BOCOM International analyst Luya You said the prospect of further job cuts was rising, as a slower-than-expected vaccine rollout in key markets dimmed the outlook for the second half of 2021.

"As in 2020, we expect Cathay to make decisions regarding any further cuts to come in the second quarter once the second-half outlook becomes clearer," she said.

Healy said there were no immediate plans for further job cuts but the situation was "so dynamic and uncertain" that he was not in a position to rule anything out.