Whether you are describing a market as dynamic or static, a buyers-market or a sellers-market, supply rich or demand rich, the pendulum always swings and markets are always in flux. We have enjoyed balanced markets in the past. In fact, I know I could find and dust-off a past article that would speak to any of these market dynamics. What makes that the lazy way out is everything in the market affecting it at this moment. For instance, the last time I probably wrote about a balanced market was at least 5 years ago, if not longer, as we began to emerge from the 2008-2009 global downturn. However, in that period our entire fleet was 5 years younger, there was less concern about next gen upgrades and there was not a global recovery.
This is not going to be a dusted-up article! In order to claim that we are in a balanced market today I looked at several resources, including the two reporting books, Aircraft Bluebook and VREF, as well as questioning many aircraft brokers, lenders and attorneys. They all seemed to say the same thing. Balanced. It is too early in this balancing act to declare too much of an off-center market phenomenon. Meaning, it would not be fair to call it a sellers’ market and it is not too early to stop calling it a buyers’ market.
Let’s look at the difference between the balance 5 years ago and today. In just looking at a few categories of aircraft that are 10 years or newer now, the market experienced a calming of residual loss rates from about the 3rd quarter of 2013 to about the 1st quarter of 2015. That was when I wrote an article titled “Careful What You Wish For” which outlined the three big wishes everyone in North America had, a lower cost of oil, more energy independence, and a stronger dollar. I went on to say that we actually got all the wishes we asked for granted almost on the same day. The only problem was those wishes caused havoc in our markets again. Oil dropped over one hundred dollars a barrel, concurrently US oil reserves surged and our dollar strengthened overnight. The capital expenditure of companies and countries subsequently dried up overnight. So began another significant drop in aircraft values which is only beginning to level out as of the 3rd quarter of 2017. Back to balance.
As I mentioned 5 years ago as we looked at our fleet at large we had a 5-year younger fleet even for the oldest planes. The idea of eminent investment in even the oldest planes that wanted to fly only domestically was still out so far by most standards that it was not on the radar screens of most owners or buyers and sellers. Today, as we have an older fleet with the near-term investment being required for next gen, we began to not only face the reality of further investment in our fleet for compliancy, but also the contemplation of certain age aircraft just truly being on their last leg. Some people will not want to make that avionic investment in an aircraft that may only be worth $500,000. Therefore, we may be saying goodbye to a segment of our fleet that has been delivering safe flying to its owners for 25 to 30 years. That loss of fleet count will add to the equation of overall supply.
The biggest news today is global economic health. This is the first time in a long time that the world economy is growing. This will be the single most contributing factor to the balanced market. I am asked all the time about the effect the new tax cuts will have on aircraft transactions. My answer today, which of course may shift over time, is it is too early to tell. Will the 100% depreciation in the first year for pre-owned aircraft stimulate sales? Not sure yet if as a stand alone benefit that will bring a large increase to sales. After all, not everyone has the ability or capacity to use that new benefit. Many high net worth individuals who no longer have business interests can’t use the depreciation and the personal use factor has to also weigh in for those who could. I think the overall business confidence level is up in North America and in many other parts of the world, and that as much as anything, is good for business. As a counter balance to this, one must consider the risk of inflation and the toll a few hundred basis points could take on borrowing. So, in one hand we have benefits of tax incentives and in the other hand we have risks associated with growth. My advice is like it is with any market condition, approach the market with good counsel and common sense. Align with those professionals who have your best interest in mind. Ask good questions and expect solid answers. As always, demand a transparent transaction.