ICBC leads Asian jet lessor buying spree: sources

PARIS (Reuters) - Asian-controlled leasing companies splashed out on passenger jets worth $25 billion at list prices to pick out bargains as planemakers Airbus AIR.PA and Boeing BA.N raced to end a relatively quiet year with fresh orders.

Slideshow ( 2 images )

The deals for over 200 jets are expected to show up in end-year tallies from U.S. group Boeing and European rival Airbus this week, providing clues on how far trade tensions and economic uncertainty are dampening an already slowing aircraft market.

China’s ICBC Financial Leasing has firmed up an order for 80 Airbus A320-family jets worth $8.8 billion at list prices, industry sources said on Monday. It was not immediately clear whether ICBC would be publicly identified.

Airbus declined to comment on the deal, which sources had previously linked to a then-tentative order for 80 jets unveiled at last year’s Farnborough Airshow, with the Chinese buyer’s name kept under wraps amid rising trade tensions.

ICBC was not immediately available for comment.

The move is part of a buying spree from Asian lessors in the final hours of 2018 as Japanese-owned SMBC Aviation agreed to buy some 65 Airbus jets, the sources said. That comes on top of a 100-jet Airbus order from HNA-owned Avolon..

Airbus has indicated it will release annual numbers on Friday, but could do so even earlier after speculation over deliveries rocked its share price.

Despite media and brokerage reports that Airbus missed its annual delivery target for 800 jets, several sources did not rule out a positive surprise after a frenetic New Year’s Eve.

Boeing, which headed into the final weeks of 2018 with a wide lead in orders over Airbus, is due to announce commercial data on Tuesday and is certain to hold onto its crown as the largest producer of jetliners.

It has not announced firm orders since November but a taste of what is in the pipeline for December came with barely noticed stock exchange filings confirming demand from Chinese lessors.

Hong Kong’s China Aircraft Leasing (CALC) posted two deals for 25 Boeing 737 MAX jets each, including one which crept under the wire just before fireworks brought in 2019. The move potentially doubles its first Boeing order for 50 737s.

Singapore-based BOC Aviation disclosed December orders for 11 Boeing 737 MAX and three long-range Boeing 777-300ER. The Hong-Kong listed firm also bought two Airbus A350-900 jets.

Boeing marketing chief Randy Tinseth signaled a heavy December for wide-body jet orders, writing in a blog that the 777 mini-jumbo had topped 2,000 orders since its 1990 launch after a total of 17 orders from BOC and another unnamed buyer.

Coupled with signs of demand elsewhere, Boeing’s orders put it on course to post 2018 net orders above deliveries, which it forecasts at 810-815 jets.

With around 400 jets sold in December, Airbus is closer than expected to that positive order ratio to deliveries but has said eight years of growth in its backlog may falter in 2018.

Reporting by Tim Hepher; Editing by Sudip Kar-Gupta and Mark Potter