Corporate Airline Mergers Impact Municipal Airport Credits

The Eno Center for Transportation, a non-partisan think tank, released a research report last week on U.S. aviation system capacity constraints.  The report mentions airline consolidation as a major force behind creating larger hub and spoke aviation networks, resulting in fewer direct flights.  The consolidation trend is forcing more traffic to fewer airports, which is constraining capacity at the largest 30 hub airports while reducing passenger volumes at medium-size airports.  This creates two problems for municipal airport credits.  One, larger hub airports need to issue more debt to finance capacity expansion.  The larger debt burdens could reduce the credit quality of the issuers and increase pressure on management to increase revenue.  Two, second tier airports face revenue pressures from reduced passenger volumes. Cross-sector trends are important to analyze, and our municipal and corporate credit teams work closely together to measure credit risk across the various sectors of the investment grade bond market. Even with these trends, SNW Asset Management continues to overweight airport credits in client portfolios. Airports are one of the municipal sectors that provides positive excess returns versus equal duration U.S. Treasuries through various interest rate scenarios and business cycles.