Gol

A reportagem a seguir, publicada no Wall Street Journal, faz uma análise da Gol. A reportagem é clara ao afirmar que os problemas da empresa não são decorrentes somente da crise do setor aéreo, mas também devido as decisões da empresa, em especial a aquisição e dificuldade de incorporar a Varig.

Skies Cloud for Brazilian Airline
By Claudia Assis
The Wall Street Journal – 21/11/2007

When Brazil’s Gol Linhas Aereas Inteligentes SA listed in Sao Paulo and New York in June 2004, it sounded like an investor’s dream — a new, very profitable airline from a corner of the world where more and more people were ditching buses to hop on planes.

But three years later, investors aren’t so sure Gol has really scored. Questions about whether Gol is still true to the low-cost carrier model after a major acquisition, coupled with a continuing crisis in the Brazilian civil aviation sector, have left investors uncertain.

The skies became cloudy for civil aviation in Brazil in September 2006, when a Gol airliner crashed in midair with an executive jet, killing all 154 people on board the Gol plane.

Earlier this year, Gol bought the assets of legacy airline Varig. More recently, management has been under fire for lowering financial guidance in October and then again earlier this month. There’s also been talk of a stock buyback and interest from other investors, including private-equity groups, in buying Gol.

“They are not really giving people much of a sense of where they are going, or where the company stands,” Citi analyst Steve Trent said.

Gol’s 2004 IPO was three times oversubscribed, with international investors snapping up two-thirds of the shares offered. Their enthusiasm was understandable: A year earlier, Gol was the world’s second most profitable carrier, after low-cost pioneer Ryanair Holdings PLC of Ireland.

Gol, with a catchy name that translates to a soccer goal, followed by “smart airline,” seemed ready to reap the benefits of being the sole budget airline in Brazil. The company, led by a member of the Constantino family, which has ties to the Brazilian transportation market, offered flights to anyone with Internet access and as little as one real (57 cents) in his or her pocket. In its early days, Gol did many one-real promotions on one-way flights.

But the shares have taken a hit lately, and were down almost 16% by mid-November. Gol’s management has said the Constantino family was considering a share buyback. In a third-quarter conference call last week, management didn’t discuss any repurchase plans or the private-equity interest in the company. Chief Financial Officer and Vice President Richard Lark did say that controlling shareholders continue to mull alternatives and that the market would be notified in due course if anything concrete took place.

After it bought Varig’s assets, Gol Linhas Aereas became the parent company of GOL Transportes Aereos and VRG Linhas Aereas. Gol said it is working to incorporate its low-cost model into the daily operations of Varig, or VRG, as the company is now called.

“We have renegotiated leasing contracts, reduced maintenance reserves, and adjusted sales commissions through contract negotiations,” Gol said. “We are redesigning VRG’s organizational structure to increase productivity while hiring additional employees, and reducing IT costs through outsourcing.” Nonetheless, the company’s bottom line still has been hurt.

Brazil’s aviation crisis also has damped the stock price of TAM SA, the country’s dominant airline, but analysts are more positive on TAM, as the company has a stronger foothold on international flights. TAM has made no acquisitions recently.

Gol trades at a premium compared with TAM. According to Factset, Gol’s 2008 price/earnings ratio hovers around 23, while TAM’s P/E ratio stands at 14. That premium was justified when Gol followed the low-cost carrier model, but since the company acquired Varig’s assets, “that argument entirely goes out the window,” Citi’s Mr. Trent said. Gol is no longer a pure low-cost carrier, he added.

Boston-based fund manager Urban Larson, of F&C Management, said Gol’s strategy in buying Varig assets is “unproven,” given that the company “was quite successful as an LCC.”

In the past, F&C has owned Gol shares, but the fund got out when “uncertainty surrounding the [Brazilian civil aviation] sector did not make us want to continue holding the stock,” Mr. Larson said. He declined to disclose when he sold his positions on Gol.

Gol’s plane crash last year exposed infrastructure weaknesses in the Brazilian civil-aviation sector. Since then, the industry has had to cope with frequent air-traffic-controller strikes, management upheaval at the regulating agency, and other wrinkles leading to stranded passengers and scores of chronically late planes or canceled flights.

The crisis was at its worst in July, when a TAM airliner overran the runway and went down in flames at Sao Paulo’s Congonhas airport, killing 199 people. That led to restrictions to operations in the airport, one of Brazil’s busiest.

Gol’s operations, heavily reliant on Congonhas, were deeply affected. The company reported third-quarter net profit of 45.5 million reals, down from 190 million reals in the same period a year ago.

Not all the news is bad for Gol. On Nov. 8, UBS Investment Research upgraded Gol to hold from sell, thanks to the bank’s belief there’s room for better profits. “We highlight significantly stronger than expected [October] passenger traffic . . . coupled with BRA’s struggles as key supporting arguments,” UBS said.

Time may very well be on Gol’s side. Market participants say that despite the current problems, the airline’s long-term story, on the back of domestic demand trends, still looks interesting, since demand for flights is expected to continue to grow in Latin America and in Brazil.

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