Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Shares of Cathay Pacific soared in its best week of trading in almost a year as investors hoped reports of job cuts at Hong Kong’s flagship carrier would trigger a return to profitability.

Cathay rose the third-most this week among the Hang Seng Index’s 50 blue chips as of the midday trading break on Friday in Hong Kong, climbing 7.4% to HK$12.48. Since hitting an eight-year low last October, shares in Cathay have jumped 24.1%, nearly doubling the gain in Hong Kong’s benchmark during that span.

The rally in Cathay shares has picked up steam since the air carrier announced on May 22 that it would be cutting 600 jobs. On Thursday, reports that 400 staff would be let go this month under the previously announced plans jolted the counter upward 6.3%.

“Redundancy news are usually short-term catalysts,” BOCOM International analyst Geoffrey Cheng wrote in a note dated May 23.

“So, it could push the share price of Cathay Pacific higher in these few days. We are eager for the next analyst meeting to find out more about Cathay Pacific’s latest financial performance.”

Cheng maintained his sell rating and HK$9.50 target price on the stock. Just one of 20 analysts covering the stock has a buy rating, while seven maintain a hold and 12 rate it a sell, according to Bloomberg.

A four-time winner of Skytrax’s Airline of the Year award, Cathay’s fall from grace highlights the increasingly competitive landscape in Asia’s aviation industry.

Travelers are increasingly price discerning with an ever-increasing inflow of air carriers from the Middle East and China able to offer both low-cost and premium options.

To make matters worse for Cathay Pacific, revenue has been squeezed by a strong US dollar that makes the airline’s tickets more expensive for passengers from countries whose currencies are not pegged to the greenback.

On the other side of the balance sheet, wrong-way fuel hedging bets incurred a cost of HK$8.5 billion last year (US$1.1 billion).

Meanwhile, the introduction of stricter membership requirements to its Marco Polo loyalty program as well as reports of plans to reduce economy seat sizes on select flights have tested passenger’s loyalty.

The job cuts are part of a major business transformation as Cathay seeks to shrug off a HK$575 million loss in 2016, its first shortfall in eight years.

Following the loss, the carrier said it would not pay a second interim dividend and later announced that chief operating officer Rupert Hogg would take over for Ivan Chu as chief executive officer effective May 1.

Elsewhere, Singapore Airlines is also hoping for a turnaround after being sapped by some of the same competitive pressures as Cathay.

Singapore’s flagship carrier announced an unexpected loss of S$138.3 million (US$100.1 million) in the quarter ended March 2017. Its stock dropped 7.2% over the four weeks through Thursday.

Singapore Airlines chief executive officer, Goh Choon Phong, said redundancies are possible as the company looks to return to profitability, according to Bloomberg.

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