Thursday, March 18, 2010

Flying With Heavy Loads

Blog readers may be interested in a new working paper from Ranadeva Jayaskera, "Flying With Heavy Loads" Capital Structure Considerations for the US Airline Industry (Working Paper, Feb. 18, 2010) (available from SSRN here).  From the abstract:

The paper discusses a hidden aspect of a firm’s capital structure through the use of a real options application. It is applied to the US airline industry, characterized by over levered balance sheets, and financial distress. The paper introduces the notion of “financial flexibility”, defined as the freedom (or flexibility) enjoyed by a conservatively geared firm to respond quickly and secure positive NPV projects, as opposed to an over levered firm. This ‘flexibility’ is then valued as a real option using a model based on arithmetic Brownian motion involving a path dependant option pricing framework. It analyses the implications of debt financing in the US airline industry and develops a capital structure model that incorporates the value of ‘financial flexibility’ enjoyed by conservatively geared carriers. In its application to South West Airlines the paper concludes that the optimal capital structure – if the value of financial flexibility is incorporated - should move closer to the origin. A methodology of integrating the value of financial flexibility into the traditional theories of capital structure is proposed and demonstrated that (at least) in the US airline industry, failure to do so can result in a significant misstatement in a firm’s value and its optimal capital structure. This paper makes two key contributions. The notion of valuing financial flexibility as a real option has been introduced previously by Beneda and Nelson (2003). However their quantification of the option value is through a standard Black Scholes equation where the underlying assumptions are not valid in quantifying a real option of this nature and this paper addresses this issue. Furthermore the paper applies the concept of financial flexibility specifically to the US airline industry and develops a conjecture on how this can be incorporated into the traditional theories of capital structure, another contribution to the academic literature.

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Ever since the 9/11 attacks using airline equipment the airlines have struggled with their business models. Because of the high capital investments required, combined with the ever accelerating fuel costs, the airlines struggle to be profitable.

Getting the capital structure of an airline so that the airline has financial flexibility should be an important consideration of the management and boards of airlines as many factors they can not control impact their bottom lines.

John M. White, MBA, ATP Pilot, Internet Publisher

Posted by: John M. White, MBA | Mar 24, 2010 9:26:23 AM

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