Airbus cheers strong year with bonus dividend, but space business drags on profits

On Thursday, Airbus, the largest commercial aircraft manufacturer in the world, announced a special dividend following its improved 2023 results. This improvement was driven by a resurgence in demand for jetliners, despite a new charge of 200 million euros ($215 million) in its struggling Space business. The company reported a 4% increase in core adjusted operating profit to 5.8 billion euros and an 11% rise in revenue to 65.4 billion euros. It also projected a core profit of 6.5 to 7.0 billion euros for 2024. However, the adjusted earnings for the fourth quarter were slightly below the company's market predictions at 2.21 billion euros.


Airbus is currently benefiting from a surge in orders from airlines as travel demand recovers from the pandemic. This has helped Airbus build its cash reserves, unlike its American competitor Boeing, which is dealing with debts from multiple crises. Airbus proposed a regular dividend of 1.8 euros per share, which remained unchanged, and added a special dividend of 1 euro per share as its net cash exceeded the 10-billion-euro mark, a previously identified potential trigger for returning more cash to shareholders. Despite this, shares were slightly lower in early trading, with some analysts attributing this to cautious financial forecasts for 2024 and the absence of new updates on a broader share buyback.

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Investors have been urging Airbus for a buyback as it continues to outperform Boeing in the single-aisle jet market. Airbus CFO Thomas Toepfer stated that the company opted for the special dividend to act swiftly and to demonstrate its commitment to its cash distribution promises. Airbus anticipates around 800 jet deliveries for 2024 but also announced a further delay in the entry to service of its A321XLR single-aisle jet from the second to the third quarter. The first aircraft for a customer entered the final assembly in December. The company's forecasts are contingent on no further disruptions to the tight global supply chains or the world economy. Some analysts considered the outlook to be cautious, even as Airbus and other companies continue to grapple with supply constraints. The Space unit charge increased the total written off in that segment last year to 600 million euros. This came after Reuters reported that CEO Guillaume Faury had informed staff that large, unexpected charges in the business were "not acceptable".

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These charges contributed to a 40% decrease in defense and Space profits to 229 million euros, while helicopter profits increased by 15%. Airbus is among the European companies facing stiff competition from U.S. launchers and a new generation of low-cost satellites. However, Faury stated in a letter to staff last month that Airbus is better positioned with a high-performing Defense and Space business than without a presence in those areas. He also mentioned on Thursday that Airbus would continue to monitor its exposure in Space. Faury also expressed confidence in Airbus's plan to achieve a key production target of 75 single-aisle jets per month by 2026, a goal that is central to Airbus's industrial plans in the busiest part of the market. However, some suppliers remain more conservative, informing Reuters that Airbus is currently producing around 50 of the jets per month, compared to a production plan that had anticipated 58 by the end of 2023.

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