Oulook: Bloodbath cancelled

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The Independent Online
THE "BLOODBATH" predicted for low cost airlines by the Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary a year ago looks to have been restricted largely to his own share price and even that is looking a lot perkier now. Yesterday, the no-frills Irish airline announced that its fares this winter would probably rise 5 per cent rather than fall 20 per cent, as Ryanair initially forecast.

The further away you get from Mr O'Leary's bloodcurdling prediction 12 months ago of Armageddon in the budget end of the airline market, the more it appears that his remarks were aimed at rival carriers and not investors. True, the sector has experienced some turbulence - four start- up airlines have crashed completely and another four would-be budget carriers have been forced to slash capacity. But this scarcely amounts to a bloodbath.

The two big no-frills operators, Ryanair and easyJet, have emerged more or less unscathed, with capacity, traffic, market share and profits all up on a year ago.

The main effect of Mr O'Leary's dire warning a year ago was to dissuade mini-me airlines from entering the market, sure in the knowledge that, however, suicidal their prices, Ryanair had the balance sheet strength not only to meet them, but beat them. Perversely, the soaring price of oil has also helped, allowing Ryanair to keep its fares higher than they would have been were it not for the successive fuel surcharges introduced by his full-service rivals such as British Airways.

The Ryanair share price nosedived after Ryanair's warning a year ago, halving in value at one point. Today, the fall has been narrowed to just 16 per cent, which is better news for investors - provided, of course that what Mr O'Leary is telling them today is any more believable than what he was saying back then.