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Cathay Pacific is the world's least-favourite airline stock

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Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd has collected an unwanted title.

[HONG KONG] Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd has collected an unwanted title.

Equity strategists have less enthusiasm for the carrier than any other member of the Bloomberg World Airlines Index, according to a ranking of analyst ratings. Cathay shares have tumbled 11 per cent this month, falling to a record low versus Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index on Aug 22, as brokerages including Credit Suisse Group AG cut their recommendations on the stock.

Asia's biggest international carrier posted an 82 per cent drop in first-half net income as losses from fuel hedging mounted and passenger yields - the amount earned by carrying a person per kilometre, and a key metric of profitability - slumped to their lowest in seven years.

Rising competition from Chinese airlines and capacity constraints at Hong Kong's airport are denting the outlook for Cathay Pacific, according to UBS AG, the top forecaster for the stock over the past year.

Cathay Pacific's passenger yield faces a "multi-year" decline, said Eric Lin, a Hong-Kong based analyst at UBS, who predicts the company's shares will fall a further 3 per cent in the next 12 months.

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"We turned very cautious on Hong Kong as a transit hub since the second half of last year."

There are nine sell ratings on Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific, eight neutral recommendations and two buys, according to analysts tracked by Bloomberg, giving it a score of 2.26 out of a maximum 5. That's the lowest among the 27 companies on the Bloomberg World Airlines Index that have ratings. Delta Air Lines Inc has the highest score of 4.73.

Cathay Pacific shocked investors on Aug 17 when it reported net income in the six months to June fell to HK$353 million (S$62 million), compared with the HK$1.07 billion median estimate in a Bloomberg News survey of four analysts. The shares fell 12 per cent in two days, their biggest loss since 2008. They rose 0.4 per cent at 9:38am local time.

Cathay Pacific declined to comment on its stock price and consensus rating. Hong Kong-based conglomerate Swire Pacific Ltd is the largest shareholder with a 45 per cent stake.

Passenger yields declined 10 per cent to 54.3 Hong Kong cents as an economic slowdown in China hurt premium class demand and depressed corporate travel from Hong Kong to London and New York, according to Cathay Pacific. The carrier lost HK$4.49 billion from fuel hedges in the first half of the year.

"The earnings came as a surprise," said Ajith Kom, a Singapore-based analyst at UOB Kay Hian Pte Ltd, who has a sell rating on Cathay Pacific and a 12-month target price of HK$10.6. Rising costs and falling passenger yields will continue to pressure the company's earnings in the second half, he said.


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