* Q4 loss widens, sends shares to all-time low
* Acting CEO sees benefit from lower fuel prices (Recasts lead, adds share reaction, analyst comment)
By Yantoultra Ngui
KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 24 (Reuters) - Malaysian long-haul budget airline AirAsia X Bhd reported a wider fourth-quarter loss, hit by a weaker ringgit against the U.S. dollar and losses on fuel contracts that sent shares sliding to a all-time low.
The carrier’s net loss for October-December widened to 168.4 million ringgit ($46 million) from 132.6 million ringgit a year ago, the company said on Tuesday. Higher operating costs also weighed, though revenue increased 20 percent to 819.3 million ringgit, according to a stock exchange filing.
AirAsia X shares fell early on Wednesday, sliding as much as 8 percent to their lowest level since the company listed in mid-2013 before rebounding. At 0200 GMT, they were down 3.2 percent while the benchmark index was 0.2 percent lower.
The unprofitable carrier, an affiliate of Asia’s largest budget airline AirAsia Bhd, last month announced a plan to raise $109 million in an equity rights issue to shore up finances and reshuffled top management in a bid to turn around its fortunes.
The publication of the results comes as Southeast Asia aviation seeks to shake off the impact of a flurry of accidents last year. Among those was the crash of a plane operated by AirAsia X’s Indonesia affiliate in the Java Sea near the end of last December, killing all 162 people on board.
“It was a challenging year due to external factors beyond our control and internal inefficiencies that need to be addressed,” Kamarudin Meranun, Chief Executive Officer of AirAsia X Group, including carriers other than AirAsia X, said in a statement.
Analysts said shoring up the balance sheet has now become a priority for AirAsia X.
“Their capital base is really thin right now,” said Maybank analyst Mohshin Aziz. “Among all the airlines in Asia Pacific, their balance sheet is the most precarious. They need to execute their rights issue as soon as possible.”
Acting AirAsia X CEO Benyamin Ismail said there were reasons to be optimistic about this year, helped by lower fuel prices and savings from working more closely with parent AirAsia.
“We are already seeing improvement in average base fare early this year and with the decline fuel price, it will provide a huge saving as the fuel cost contributed approximately 40 percent of the total expenses,” he said in the company’s statement.
For the full statement, please click: bit.ly/1FSR3iv
$1 = 3.6400 ringgit Additional reporting by Al-Zaquan Amer Hamzah in Kuala Lumpur and Shilpa Murthy in Bengaluru; Editing by David Clarke, Mark Potter and Kenneth Maxwell