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Aimia CEO says company will review strategy as it works to close Aeroplan sale

Aimia CEO says company will review strategy as it works to close Aeroplan sale

MONTREAL — Aimia Inc., which has seen its shares struggle in recent years, is launching a review of its strategic direction as it works to complete the sale of its flagship Aeroplan rewards program.

"While we have been able to deliver great service to our customers, our shareholders have not seen the same benefit,” chief executive Jeremy Rabe told financial analysts on a conference call Wednesday.

"As we invested in our global platform to grow the business, the cost base got ahead of our ability to generate new revenue, and more recently perceived uncertainty around Aimia contributed to client losses."

The company's board of directors has asked management to present it with alternative visions and plans for the company's future after it closes a $450-million deal to sell Aeroplan to a consortium led by Air Canada.

The future of the program — whose buyers include TD Bank, CIBC and Visa Canada Corp. — had faced questions after Air Canada rolled out plans to start its own loyalty program in July 2020, when its partnership with Aimia was set to expire.

"Our focus now must be on realigning the shape of the business from where we are today and ensuring costs more closely reflect the future revenue mix," Rabe said.

"We have a new plan centred on simplification, efficiencies and core technologies and services."

Rabe said he's aiming to close the deal by the end of the year. "Eating and sleeping are optional until we get definitive agreements,” he added.

Aimia shares have hovered at around $4 since the Aeroplan deal was announced on Aug. 21, less than half its stock price from before May 2017. The analytics firm has seen shares decline from a peak of around $20 in the first half of 2014 and net losses totalling more than $400 million over the past five years.

Aimia's global reach has sometimes come at a cost. In February, the company announced it had sold Nectar, a U.K. loyalty program, to British retailer Sainsbury for $105 million, 11 years after Aimia bought it for $755 million.

"There's been that debate around whether Aimia has been milking Aeroplan and not really investing in it or growing it," said AltaCorp Capital analyst Chris Murray.

"The question is whether or not it's been run as effectively as it could be and if there's some room for growth in capturing additional market share."

Aeroplan has roughly five million members, compared with about 12 million at Australian-based Qantas.

Aimia management said in August it has considered further asset sales and a wind-up of the company. GMP Securities analyst Martin Landry speculated that Aimia "could resemble a holding company with limited assets."

The Aeroplan agreement would leave the company with more than $1 billion in cash to invest elsewhere, according to Mittleman Brothers, Aimia's largest stakeholder at 17.6 per cent.

Analysts predicted about 1,000 Aeroplan employees — roughly 60 per cent of Aimia's workforce — would transfer to Air Canada if the deal goes ahead.

The strategic review announcement came as Aimia reported earnings of $21.7 million or 11 cents per share in its third quarter, compared with a loss of $40.3 million or 29 cents per share in the same period last year.

Revenue totalled $372.7 million for the quarter ended Sept. 30, up from $350.5 million in the third quarter of 2017.

Adjusted net earnings per share climbed to 33 cents last quarter, compared to four cents per share at the same time last year, beating analysts' expectations by more than 65 per cent, according to Thomson Reuters Eikon.

 

Companies in this story: (TSX:AIM, TSX:AC, TSX:TD, TSX:CM)

Christopher Reynolds, The Canadian Press