Vista Global Holdings, parent of VistaJet and XO, grew revenue to about $2.5bn in 2022 and says expansion has continued with “high double-digit revenue growth” producing a record first quarter in 2023. However the Financial Times (FT) recently reported on the billions of dollars of debt and four years of losses at the private jet operator. Vista CEO Thomas Flohr stresses the company has a very positive EBITDA (Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) and its focus is cash flow.
Q1 Revenue Growth
For the first quarter of 2023, Vista said that its record results were underpinned by Program sales - the Vista jet card type prepaid, fixed hourly rate product - with approximately 9,000 gross annual hours sold in the quarter, up 55% year-on-year. The U.S. saw the largest growth with Program annual hours sold in the quarter doubling relative to the same quarter last year.
Vista says that the 2022 acquisitions of Air Hamburg in Europe and Jet Edge in the US, helped with this growth, building the owned and managed fleet to 360 aircraft. Within this fleet it has been doing upgrades, refurbishments and changing the livery to the standard Vista silver and red noting “now over 200 aircraft are inclusive of silver and red interior standards and VistaJet products.”
Despite these impressive top line results, the Financial Times published a recent analysis under the heading “the debt-fuelled ascent of Thomas Flohr’s VistaJet.”
One of the sources for this analysis was the $500m 5-year Senior Unsecured bond refinancing at a 9.5% yield that Vista Group completed on May 1, 2023. As part of this refinancing the company shared financial details in a prospectus with investors.
The FT noted “Net losses amounted to $436mn over the past four years, according to company disclosures to bond investors.” Then added “total debt more than doubled last year to $4.4bn as Vista’s fleet increased by half to 360 jets, helped by the acquisitions of Air Hamburg, Europe’s largest charter operator, and US-based Jet Edge.”
The article from the FT further stressed “At the end of 2022, customers had paid a total of $831mn up front for hours yet to be flown, but Vista had only $134mn cash left in the bank.” As a further highlight, the article went on to say that auditors EY had warned in their 2022 opinion that “a material uncertainty exists that may cast significant doubt on the group’s ability to continue as a going concern.”
EBITDA & Cash
Flohr emphasized to the FT that the company focus is on EBITDA, rather than the bottom line losses. The FT noted that “On Moody’s calculations, debt last year stood at 7.6 times adjusted EBITDA of $576mn.” Flohr reiterated this EBITDA focus in an interview with CNBC, saying “We as a company only focus on the EBITDA, of the cash creation of the company, and the adjusted EBITDA was over 800 million in 22.”
When CNBC asked about the cash on the balance sheet, relative to customer deposits, Flohr noted “we need only about 20 to 22% of that number to serve our clients for the direct operating expenses of those flights.”
One of the major differences between the EBITDA and the bottom line losses is the depreciation on the aircraft fleet. The owned aircraft in the fleet are already paid for but are being depreciated like any other fixed asset. Flohr addressed this in talking to CNBC saying “the company has a very conservative depreciation policy where over 13 years we would depreciate our aircraft to zero.” On a multi-billion dollar fleet value, this would be hundreds of millions of dollars in (non-cash) depreciation costs that would be adjusted in the EBITDA calculation.
And in another recent interview with Daniel Riefer at consultants McKinsey, Flohr reiterated his value proposition saying “Corporate jets fly only 250 hours per year on average, so there is massive underutilization. Our aircraft each fly between 1,000 and 1,500 hours per year. If you fly as much as we do, you can offer a completely different price point because you make your assets work more.”
Then added “We don’t think corporations should invest in their own aircraft because we have proven we can do it for them at a price point that can be less than half the price of owning a jet.”