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Ryanair chief eyes debt-free future to avoid being 'trapped' in bond cycle

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Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary

Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary

REUTERS

Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary

Ryanair will not be a slave to bond markets and could be debt-free within the next five years, according to chief executive Michael O'Leary.

He said that if the company did not pay off its €1.3bn in outstanding debt, Ryanair would have surplus cash, which he does not want.

"I don't want to be sucked into a situation, with all companies, that once they start raising bond money they just start replacing one bond with another bond, and the debt never gets paid back," he said this week after the company released its third-quarter results.

"It would have a significant impact on our earnings if we repay that debt," said Mr O'Leary. "If we don't repay that debt, we're sitting there with substantial surplus cash and I have no use for that. I'd rather we would pay down debt."

"Ultimately, I would like to be conservative," he added.

"Pay back the debt. We own all of our fleet of aircraft and we will still be generating very significant annual cashflow."

Its combined debt is currently costing just under 2pc interest a year.

Mr O'Leary added that being debt-free within the next four or five years would make Ryanair the only such carrier in Europe.

He said that would make the airline "an even stronger competitor".

Ryanair chief financial officer Neil Sorahan noted that the airline group already raised €750m this year on the markets at a 0.65pc interest rate.

That was an unsecured bank loan with a five-year term from a syndicate of 10 banks. It issued an €850m bond in 2014 with a 1.875pc coupon and that falls due in June next year.

"We don't have the need to raise more, or to refinance the bond over the next year," he said.

"Our working assumption with peak capex is that we will also pay down the first maturing bond due in 2021," added Mr Sorahan.

"If we decide to go back at some stage to refinance, it will be at a time of our choosing when it's just too attractive to say no."

Ryanair issued an €850m bond in 2015 that falls due in 2023, and a €750m bond that also matures in 2023.

"At the moment, taking that 2pc interest rate off the P&L (profit and loss) makes a lot of sense, strengthening up the balance sheet and giving us more flexibility in what we do," said the finance chief.

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