MONTREAL - Groupe Aeroplan Inc. (TSX:AER) lowered its revenue guidance for 2009 on Friday after weaker second-quarter results pointed to a slower economic recovery particularly among business travellers than previously forecast.
The company, which runs customer-loyalty programs involving Air Canada (TSX:AC.B) and other businesses, said Friday its gross billings should decrease by two per cent to four per cent excluding currency losses, compared to an expected growth this year.
"The recovery is starting to happen, but it will not happen quickly enough for us to reach the previous guidance we gave out at the end of the first quarter," CEO Rupert Duchesne said in a conference call.
Aeroplan earned $26.7 million or 13 cents per share for the quarter ended June 30, down from year-earlier earnings of $31.5 million or 16 cents per share.
Quarterly revenue dipped to $333.5 million from $336.7 million a year ago.
The decline was partially attributed to a drop in revenue from the sale of Aeroplan points, which sagged 5.6 per cent to $337.8 million from $335.9 million a year ago, as the company was hit by lower consumer spending on its partner credit cards and a dramatic drop of business travellers.
The results failed to meet analyst expectations. Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters thought adjusted EPS would increase 67 per cent to 27 cents on $359 million of revenues.
"I am the bear on the Street and it was slightly disappointing even to me," said Neil Linsdell of Versant Partners."
David Adams, the chief financial officer, said Aeroplan delivered a decent operating and cash flow performance in a pretty tough environment.
"We thought it would be soft, it's actually a little bit softer than we expected," he said in an interview, adding Aeroplan underestimated the reduction in business travel and uncertainty associated with Air Canada.
Higher redemptions caused the cost of rewards to increase 4.7 per cent to $201.7 million.
While consumer confidence hasn't yet returned, Duchesne said Air Canada's recapitalization has started to reassure members that their points are safe.
"Things are definitely starting to improve," he told analysts.
Originated as the frequent-flyer program for Air Canada, Groupe Aeroplan now operates as an independent company in Canada, Britain and the Middle East.
Among Aeroplan's key partners are CIBC (TSX:CM) and American Express, which offer credit cards that provide Aeroplan points.
Linsdell said Aeroplan was affected by the recession as consumers spent less on credit cards and used their Aeroplan miles instead of cash.
Heightened concerns about Air Canada's future also prompted members to cash in miles fearing the rules on their use might be changed, even if the airline avoided bankruptcy protection, Linsdell said in an interview.
Duchesne said assisting Air Canada with a $150-million loan was the right thing to do "both from a commercial perspective and for the benefit of all of our stakeholders."
"A stronger Air Canada means our Canadian program will be in a better position going forward," he said.
But Linsdell said most Aeroplan investors do so for the loyalty program and not for the company to be lending money to a business with a questionable future.
Meanwhile, Duchesne said Aeroplan is not worried about WestJet's (TSX:WJA) decision to partner with the Royal Bank (TSX:RY) on the Calgary-based airline's upcoming frequent flyer program. He said it appear that WestJet will be aimed more at the mass market than its up-market offering.
On the Toronto Stock Exchange, Aeroplan shares closed at $9.69, down 19 cents or nearly two per cent.