EADS is the opposite of a swan. All the furious paddling at the European aerospace group is being done above the surface (see the latest pointless spat between France and Germany). Yet underneath, outgoing chief executive Louis Gallois has things swimming as smooth as you like.
Revenue, earnings, orders and deliveries were higher than expected in 2011. EADS’ share price, up 11 per cent in 2012, jumped another 9 per cent on Thursday. With a potentially tricky management transition coming up, there is no room for disappointment at EADS.
Airbus, its main business with two-thirds of group revenue, is in good shape. Despite the clouds over the global economy, Deutsche Bank estimates that passenger traffic will grow by 3.5 per cent in 2012 after a 5 per cent rise last year, and airlines’ search for more fuel-efficient airplanes will continue to drive fleet renewal. Airbus booked €130-billion of new orders in 2011, and has a backlog worth €475-billion. Some of that is of course vulnerable to cancellation, but about 60 per cent of the order book is from relatively well-financed airlines in emerging markets.
Mr. Gallois has been able to bring some commercial normality to EADS by skilfully handling (often just by ignoring) the pathetic squabbling between Paris and Berlin (each owns 22.5 per cent). Tom Enders, his successor, will need to do the same, but already his sensible decision to move EADS’ various headquarters from Paris, Munich and Amsterdam to Toulouse, its main operational base, has ruffled German feathers.
Two other things need tackling. One is the Cassidian defence arm, which accounts for 12 per cent of revenue but where earnings fell 30 per cent last year. The other is the Airbus commercial aircraft operating margin. At 1.8 per cent, it trails Boeing’s 9 per cent by a ridiculously large - well, margin. The investment case for EADS depends on closing it.