Brexit risks and mitigating actions, aviation market, freedom of movement, tax, customs, ownership, currency, airline

Ryanair Holdings plc – Annual report – 31 March 2021

Industry: transport

RISK FACTORS (extract)

Risks Related to the Company (extract)

The continuing uncertainty associated with the Brexit process could adversely affect Ryanair’s business. The U.K.’s exit from the European Union on January 31, 2020 has had a significant impact on the U.K. and the EU. Further, the implementation period under which the U.K. remained subject to EU law for a limited period after the exit from the European Union ended on December 31, 2020. The U.K. and the European Union announced on December 24, 2020 that they had reached agreement on a Trade and Cooperation Agreement (the “EU–U.K. TCA”). The EU–U.K. TCA covers a wide range of topics, including trade in goods and in services, digital trade, intellectual property, public procurement, aviation and road transport, energy, fisheries, social security coordination, law enforcement and judicial cooperation in criminal matters, and thematic cooperation and participation in EU programs.

The current and future arrangements between the EU and the U.K., including the EU–U.K. TCA, could directly impact Ryanair’s business in a number of ways. They include, inter alia, the status of the U.K. in relation to the EU’s open air transport market, freedom of movement between the U.K. and the EU, and employment, social security, tax and customs rules between the U.K. and the EU. Adverse changes to any of these arrangements could potentially materially impact on Ryanair’s financial condition and results of operations in the U.K. or other markets Ryanair serves.

As a result of the EU–U.K. TCA, flights between the U.K. and the EU can be offered by any of the Company’s airline subsidiaries. U.K. domestic flights and flights between the U.K. and non-EU destinations can, however, only be operated by the Company’s U.K. subsidiary, Ryanair U.K. Limited (“Ryanair U.K.”), which received an Air Operator Certificate and Operating License (“U.K. AOC”) from the U.K. Civil Aviation Authority (“U.K. CAA”) in December 2018.

Ryanair is exposed to Brexit-related risks and uncertainties, as approximately 15% of revenue in fiscal year 2021 came from operations in the U.K., although this was offset somewhat by approximately 13% of Ryanair’s non-fuel costs in fiscal year 2021 which were related to operations in the U.K.

Brexit could also present Ryanair with a number of potential regulatory challenges. Brexit could lead to potentially divergent national laws and regulations as the U.K. determines which EU laws (including, but not limited to, in respect of aviation safety and security, consumer rights, data protection, public health and the environment) to replace or replicate. It also requires special efforts to ensure Ryanair’s continuing compliance with EU Regulation No. 1008/2008, which requires that air carriers registered in EU member states be majority-owned and effectively controlled by EU nationals. The Board of Directors has taken action to ensure continuing compliance with EU Regulation No. 1008/2008 after December 31, 2020, i.e., the date following which U.K. holders of the Company’s shares are no longer treated as EU nationals for the purposes of EU regulation No. 1008/2008. For additional information, please see “–Risks Related to Ownership of the Company’s Ordinary Shares or ADRs”.

Brexit has caused, and may continue to cause, both significant volatility in global stock markets and currency exchange rate fluctuations, as well as create significant uncertainty among U.K. businesses and investors. In particular, to June 30 2021, the pound sterling had lost approximately 7% and 11% of its value against the U.S. Dollar and the euro respectively since the Referendum. Further, the Bank of England and other observers have warned of a significant probability of a Brexit-related recession in the U.K., which may be further impacted by the negative economic effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. The Company earns a significant portion of its revenues in pounds sterling, and any significant decline in the value of the pound and/or recession in the U.K. would materially impact its financial condition and results of operations. For the remainder of fiscal year 2022, taking account of timing differences between the receipt of sterling denominated revenues and the payment of sterling denominated costs, Ryanair estimates that every 1 pence sterling movement in the €/£ exchange rate will impact income by approximately €1 million. For additional information, please see “––Currency fluctuations affect the Company’s results”.

Currency fluctuations affect the Company’s results. Although the Company is headquartered in Ireland, a significant portion of its operations are conducted in the U.K. Consequently, the Group has significant operating revenues and operating expenses, as well as assets and liabilities, denominated in U.K. pounds sterling. In addition, fuel, aircraft, insurance, aircraft leases and some maintenance obligations are denominated in U.S. dollars. Ryanair’s operations and financial performance can therefore be significantly affected by fluctuations in the values of the U.K. pound sterling and the U.S. dollar. Ryanair is particularly vulnerable to direct exchange rate risks between the euro and the U.S. dollar because a significant portion of its operating costs are incurred in U.S. dollars and substantially none of its revenues are denominated in U.S. dollars.

Although the Company engages in foreign currency hedging transactions between the euro and the U.S. dollar and, from time to time, between the euro and the U.K. pound sterling, hedging activities are not expected to eliminate currency risks. See “Item 11. Quantitative and Qualitative Disclosures About Market Risk.”

Risks Related to Ownership of the Company’s Ordinary Shares or ADRs (extract)

EU Rules impose restrictions on the ownership of Ryanair Holdings’ ordinary shares by Non-EU Nationals, and the Company has applied a ban on the purchase of ordinary shares by Non-EU nationals (which now includes U.K. nationals) since 2002. EU Regulation No. 1008/2008 requires that, in order to obtain and retain an operating license, an EU air carrier must be majority-owned and effectively controlled by EU nationals. The Board of Directors of Ryanair Holdings is given certain powers under Ryanair Holdings’ articles of association (the “Articles”) to take action to ensure that the number of Ordinary Shares held in Ryanair Holdings by non-EU nationals (“Affected Shares”) does not reach a level that could jeopardize the Company’s entitlement to continue to hold or enjoy the benefit of any license, permit, consent, or privilege which it holds or enjoys and which enables it to carry on business as an air carrier. The Directors, from time to time, set a “Permitted Maximum” on the number of the Company’s Ordinary Shares that may be owned by non-EU nationals at such level as they believe will comply with EU law. The Permitted Maximum is currently set at 49.9%. In addition, under certain circumstances, the Directors can take action to safeguard the Company’s ability to operate by identifying those Ordinary Shares, ADSs or Affected Shares which give rise to the need to take action and treat such Ordinary Shares, the American Depositary Receipts (“ADRs”) evidencing such ADSs, or Affected Shares as “Restricted Shares” (within the meaning of the Articles).

The Board of Directors may, under certain circumstances, deprive holders of Restricted Shares of their rights to attend, vote at, and speak at general meetings, and/or require such holders to dispose of their Restricted Shares to an EU national within as little as 21 days. The Directors are also given the power to transfer such Restricted Shares themselves if a holder fails to comply, with any such transfer subject to legal challenge by the relevant holder. In 2002, the Company implemented measures to restrict the ability of non-EU nationals to purchase Ordinary Shares, and non-EU nationals are currently effectively barred from purchasing Ordinary Shares and will remain so for as long as these restrictions remain in place. There can be no assurance that these restrictions will ever be lifted. Additionally, these foreign ownership restrictions could result in Ryanair’s exclusion from certain stock tracking indices. Any such exclusion may adversely affect the market price of the Ordinary Shares and ADRs. Since April 2012, the Company has had the necessary authorities in place to repurchase ADRs as part of its general authority to repurchase up to 10% of the issued share capital in the Company. See “Item 10. Additional Information—Limitations on Share Ownership by Non-EU Nationals” for a detailed discussion of restrictions on share ownership and the current ban on share purchases by non-EU nationals.

As a result of Brexit, with effect from January 1, 2021 U.K. nationals ceased to qualify as EU nationals. Consequently, as of that date, the 2002 ban on the purchase of ordinary shares by non-EU nationals has applied to U.K. nationals also. In addition, in accordance with the resolutions passed by the Board of the Company on March 8, 2019, all Ordinary Shares and ADSs held by or on behalf of non-EU nationals (including U.K. nationals) are, as of January 1, 2021, treated as “Restricted Shares”. Restricted Share Notices were issued to the registered holder(s) of each Restricted Share specifying that the holder(s) of such shares shall not be entitled to attend, speak or vote at any general meeting of the Company for so long as those shares are treated as Restricted Shares pursuant to Article 41(J)(i) of the Articles. U.K. nationals are not required to dispose of Ordinary Shares which they purchased prior to January 1, 2021. These resolutions will remain in place until the Board determines that the ownership and control of the Company is no longer such that there is any risk to the airline licenses held by the Company’s subsidiaries pursuant to EU Regulation No. 1008/2008.

Holders of ordinary shares are currently unable to convert those shares into ADRs.In an effort to increase the percentage of its share capital held by EU nationals, on June 26, 2001, Ryanair Holdings instructed The Bank of New York Mellon, the depositary for its ADR program (the “Depositary”), to suspend the issuance of new ADRs in exchange for the deposit of Ordinary Shares until further notice. Holders of Ordinary Shares cannot convert their Ordinary Shares into ADRs during this suspension, and there can be no assurance that the suspension will ever be lifted. See also “—EU Rules Impose Restrictions on the Ownership of Ryanair Holdings’ Ordinary Shares by Non-EU nationals and the Company has Instituted a Ban on the Purchase of Ordinary Shares by Non-EU Nationals”.