Monday, April 25, 2016

Airbus Gains New Financing Ally in U.S.: Building in the U.S. will allow some of the plane maker’s customers to tap the Export-Import Bank

An A320 under construction at the Airbus manufacturing facility in Mobile, Ala. The company’s first aircraft from the facility will be delivered Monday.

The Wall Street Journal
By Doug Cameron and Robert Wall
Updated April 24, 2016 10:31 p.m. ET

Airbus Group SE will open itself up to financing from an unlikely source when the first jet is delivered Monday from its new factory in Alabama: the U.S. Export-Import Bank.

The government-owned bank’s guarantees have helped finance hundreds of Boeing Co. jets over the years. Airbus has used similar European agencies to help its sales, but now building aircraft in the U.S. will allow some of the European plane maker’s customers to tap Ex-Im for the first time.

The first aircraft delivered from the new Airbus plant in Mobile are destined for JetBlue Airways Corp. and American Airlines Group Inc., which like other U.S. carriers are barred from receiving European export-credit support because of global trade rules.

But Airbus hasn’t ruled out using the factory to build planes for export, and those sales would be eligible for U.S. help.

“If an Airbus plane from Mobile had 50% U.S. content, we’d finance 50%,” Fred Hochberg, Ex-Im’s chairman, said in an interview.

Airbus said for now all its jet deliveries from Mobile are to North American customers. “If we were to sell a Mobile-assembled aircraft to an international carrier, it could be eligible for some level of Exim financing,” an Airbus spokeswoman said.

Building jetliners in Boeing’s backyard is Airbus’s highest-profile move yet to bolster its presence in the U.S. The plane maker is betting its jetliner business with U.S. carriers will benefit from a domestic presence.

Airbus has invested around $600 million in the new factory, which is expected to produce four of its single-aisle jets a month by the end of 2017. The company opened a similar facility in Tianjin, China, in 2008.

A side benefit could be access to U.S. government financing.

Boeing has led a lobbying battle to keep Ex-Im open, claiming it is at a competitive disadvantage to Airbus without access to comparable U.S. financing. Despite the bank’s reopening in December after a six-month closure, Boeing’s customers are still stymied by an on-going political fight that has left the bank unable to approve deals over $10 million.

“It’s premature to speculate on the hypothetical,” use of the bank by Airbus, said a Boeing spokesman.

Critics of the bank said any move by the bank to back Airbus sales could backfire.

“Certainly, lawmakers are going to be asking, ‘What in the world is going on?’ ” said Dan Holler at Heritage Action for America, a conservative-leaning think tank.

During the height of the financial crisis, export-credit agencies backed as much as 30% of plane deliveries. The total has retreated to less than 10% last year as commercial lending has become easily available.

Mr. Hochberg said that even though the use of Ex-Im for aircraft deals has shrunk in recent years, its value rises when alternatives dry up.

Aerospace accounted for almost half of Ex-Im’s business in fiscal 2015, and Mr. Hochberg has steered it into other areas including satellites, rocket launches and business jets.

The next step is to expand its role in aircraft services. Ex-Im has held talks with Gogo Inc. about supporting the Chicago-based onboard Wi-Fi provider’s sales to overseas airlines.

“An Ex-Im guarantee goes a long way,” said Varvara Alva, Gogo’s treasurer.

Ex-Im is considering providing financing support for airplane repairs such as work Deutsche Lufthansa AG ’s technical unit undertakes in Puerto Rico. Lufthansa said the offer is of interest, though not applicable immediately since the work it currently performs there is for U.S. airlines.

Original article can be found here:

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