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Harking back to the SARS nightmare? The surgical masks, empty stadiums and
deserted streets of Mexico’s cities remind Asians of the devastating outbreak of the
SARS avian flu in east Asia in early 2003.
Yesterday, aviation stocks responded to those fears. Singapore Airlines’ share price
declined 4.5%, Malaysia Airlines fell 3.8%, AirAsia dropped 8.8%, Thai Airways
corrected 6.9%, and Cathay Pacific (Not rated) fell 8%. Airport shares also dropped,
but not by as much. Airports of Thailand fell 2.1%, while Malaysia Airports (Not rated)
fell 0.6% yesterday.
The current swine flu outbreak in Mexico has already killed more than 100 people and
has spread to neighbouring US and Canada. The World Health Organization said that
the outbreak has “pandemic potential” and has rated the seriousness of the outbreak
as a 3 on the scale of 1 to 6, with 6 being the most severe. US President Obama said
that the swine flu outbreak is a "cause for concern and requires a heightened state of
alert…but is not a cause for alarm".
If the outbreak turns into a global pandemic, aviation could be hit by a sudden
collapse of travel demand. During SARS, Singapore Airlines’ passenger numbers fell
50% yoy in Apr 03 and 60% yoy in May (Figure 1) while Cathay Pacific’s passenger
traffic plunged by as much as 75% in May (Figure 2).
Malaysia Airlines saw a 40% yoy fall in international passengers in May 2003 although
domestic traffic was relatively more resilient, pulling back a maximum 25% yoy
(Figures 3 and 4). AirAsia also experienced a sudden demand fall during that period,
although official numbers are unavailable as the company was not listed then.
In Thailand, Airports of Thailand saw international passengers through its 5 airports
plunge 43% yoy in April 2003 and 48% yoy in May while domestic traffic retreated
15% yoy in April and 14% yoy in May (Figures 5 and 6).