From Boeing on down, a nervous aerospace industry is waiting to see what happens with ILFC, the giant plane-leasing company owned by troubled AIG.
People throughout the airplane business are anxious to learn the fate of International Lease Finance Corp. (ILFC), the world’s largest aircraft-leasing company — and whether ILFC founder and legendary aviation-market-maker Steven Udvar-Hazy will retain control of the business.
A unit of insurance conglomerate AIG, which was effectively taken over Tuesday by the federal government, the jet-leasing company owns 1,000 jets built by Boeing and Airbus and has more than 100 Boeing jets still on order.
Boeing stock dived 7.6 percent Wednesday, in part over the uncertainty surrounding ILFC, adding to the continued stalemate with the Machinists union that has halted jet production.
Its shares closed down $4.72 at $57, after reaching a low of $56.43 a share. The last time Boeing shares traded that low was in April 2005.
Most Read Business Stories
- The penthouse atop Smith Tower is on the rental market for the first time
- Downtowns will be back, but Seattle has choices to make
- Washington state ‘literally failed workers,’ and fixing the unemployment system won't be easy
- Boutique cruise line Windstar will move its Seattle headquarters to Miami
- J&J’s 1-dose shot cleared, giving US 3rd COVID-19 vaccine
In the midst of the stock-market meltdown, Udvar-Hazy is looking for financial backers to take ILFC out of AIG, The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday.
Aerospace analyst Gary Liebowitz, of Wachovia, estimated the value of ILFC at between $5 billion and $8 billion. Any buyer would also have to assume the risk of ILFC’s more than $50 billion portfolio of airplane assets and its commitments to buy jets worth a further $18 billion.
John McMahon, chief executive of Genesis Lease, an aircraft-leasing company based in Ireland, said that if Udvar-Hazy pulls it off, it will be “far and away the trickiest and biggest deal of his life.”
Among the short list of potential buyers with deep enough pockets are government-linked entities in China and the Middle East. And that introduces another uncertainty: Analyst Adam Pilarski, of aviation consultancy Avitas, said a foreign-government entity probably wouldn’t give Udvar-Hazy the free rein in running the business he enjoys now, but that the Los Angeles-based billionaire is unlikely to settle for anything less.
Udvar-Hazy founded ILFC 35 years ago and largely invented the current aircraft-leasing model. When he sold the company to AIG in 1990 for $1.3 billion in stock, he retained control of operations while he benefited from the “halo effect” of a then-deep-pocketed parent.
AIG’s stellar debt rating allowed him to borrow cheaply.
But this year ILFC has struggled to overcome the increased cost as AIG’s debt rating was downgraded because of losses due to mortgage-related contracts. Securities Exchange Commission filings show the interest rate ILFC paid on borrowed money has climbed from 4 percent in January to 8 percent this month.
This week, AIG was threatened with bankruptcy until the government bailed it out Tuesday with an $85 billion two-year loan.
Even if Udvar-Hazy succeeds in extricating ILFC from the AIG mess, it’s likely that losing the halo effect will in inhibit near-term growth and bar the kind of huge orders Udvar-Hazy has been known for.
“You won’t see ILFC placing any significant orders anytime soon,” said an analyst who works with rival leasing firms and asked for anonymity.
But he said that may not matter so much to Boeing and Airbus, which have huge backlogs. He described the stock-market hit to Boeing as “a tremendous overreaction.”
ILFC has orders with Boeing for 102 commercial jets, 74 of which are 787 Dreamliners. Boeing’s total order backlog stands at 3,696 airplanes.
John Leahy, Airbus’ chief operating officer and sales chief, said that even as airlines have floundered, jet-leasing companies have buoyed the manufacturers’ order books and reduced the financial exposure of the plane makers to “historically low levels.”
Genesis CEO McMahon thinks that lessors owning a portfolio of the latest fuel-efficient jets remain solid businesses, but he concedes that it’s a hard-sell at the moment when financial-services companies and airlines are both taking a beating.
“If airlines don’t do well, the leasing companies will not do well,” said analyst Pilarski. “Welcome to the downturn.”
What does that mean for Boeing and Airbus?
“For manufacturers, usually there is a delay,” he said. “Bad things happen to them later.”
Dominic Gates: 206-464-2963 or email@example.com