BA: Loaded down
The most striking number in British Airways results for the past year was the £3bn it spent on fuel, which was 44.5% higher than in the previous year.
So for all the talk from Willie Walsh, BA's chief executive, that "the global downturn makes this the harshest trading environment we have ever faced", without the £900m jump in fuel costs the airline would have been very comfortably in profit: operating profits would have been around £700m.
In fact the evidence of BA's revenues is not of a cataclysmic global recession. Passenger revenues rose 3.1% to £7.8bn and cargo revenues were 9.4% higher at £673m. Which is not boom boom, but nor is it financial disaster at 30,000 feet.
What actually caused BA's worst ever loss of £401m before tax and the suspension of the dividend was a lamentable rise in costs: engineering and "other" aircraft costs increased by £59m or 13.1%; landing fees were 14.2% or £75m higher. Even staff costs rose a bit.
So it's difficult to avoid the impression that at least part of BA's agony, its descent in just 12 months from record profits to record losses, was of its own making - though plainly there's a limit to what it can do to hedge itself against the near-collapse in the value of sterling (which pushes up the cost of fuel) and against the volatility in the dollar oil price.
The better news is that BA expects to pay rather less for fuel this year.
Also it's cutting costs: staff are being offered the option of temporary or permanent part-time working and unpaid leave; the company is negotiating "productivity changes" with trade unions; there'll be no management bonuses (surely BA didn't contemplate paying bonuses in this climate?).
Walsh sees no end in sight to the sharp decline in demand for air travel. At the end of the year, therefore, BA moved to cutting prices rather than squeezing more revenue out of individual customers.
However it's the uncertainties that overwhelm and the company has decided not to issue any guidance on what its results might look like in the coming year.
And if you're looking for reasons to be fearful about the outlook for BA, there's this resonant statement pertaining to the hole in its pension funds: "if the financial markets deteriorate further, our pension deficit may increase, impacting balance sheet liabilities, which may in turn affect our ability to raise additional funds".
It's not clear how big the hole in this pension fund is right now. The analyst John Ralfe thinks it could be around £3bn.
What is clear is that the quantum of BA's debt and the value of its net assets are moving in opposite directions at a worryingly fast rate.
Net borrowings rose by more than £1bn last year, to £2.4bn, dwarfing shareholders' equity of £1.6bn (which fell by an alarming 46%).
At a time when - as Walsh says - the economic flying conditions are as bad as they've ever been, those liabilities are a heavy burden to be carrying in the hold.