Despite a predictable seasonal uptick in inventory in the first quarter, activity is surprisingly more upbeat than one might expect in an election year with the U.S. stock market paying an early visit to bear territory. While the 2,410 aircraft for sale worldwide reflects an increase, fewer than half of the current choices are 2000 or newer models. The U.S. accounts for about 57 percent of that figure, Europe about 20 percent, followed by Asia and South America with 11 and 8 percent, respectively. Some aircraft that have performed well in the past appear to be taking back seats to aircraft that are making comebacks.
Consider the venerable CJ3, which has experienced an inventory build in the last year, starting 2015 with 22 for sale and reaching 36–a level not visited for six-and-a-half years–10 months later. Today that number stands at 41, an all-time high, and portends a price adjustment. The number now for sale represents 10 percent of all CJ3s in operation, a figure that typically falls into the normal supply range, but in the case of the CJ3 it seems like an anomaly, as the popular model has weathered the ups and downs of market gyrations well compared with peer aircraft over the years. Like many models, the CJ3 tends to get overbought and oversold and every new offering added to the market gets this segment closer to a tipping point, when prices correct and buyers march in. As much as sellers would like to be calling the shots, buyers clearly have the upper hand and will eventually be the ones who set the prices. Pricing in this group ranges from $3.5 million to $5.8 million, with an average of $4.7 million, but the number of “Make Offer” aircraft is on the rise, perhaps a sign that pricing is a moving target.
The Challenger 604 also gives up 10 percent of its fleet to the used market, but unlike the CJ3 it is experiencing a tightening of inventory, slowly ratcheting down from a 12-month high of 46 last summer to 39 today. Attractive pricing is clearly the catalyst that has awakened buyer interest. Pricing begins just under $5 million for a 1997 model nearing 9,000 hours total time and climbs into the $9 million range for some late-model offerings. Only about half of the offerings are based in North America, with Asia and Europe accounting for the bulk of the remainder. It looks like the upper end is stagnant relative to the 2002 and earlier models. Only two of the 10 latest offerings are in the U.S. and pricing in many of the late models appears ambitious as indicated by the number of days on market. The average days on market for all 604s is 286 days, but nearly 500 days for the 2003s and newer. On the sell side of the equation, transactions are occurring at a rate of two per month and 75 percent of the aircraft have been U.S.-registered. Sale prices ranged from $4.95 million to $6.55 million with an average of $5.85 million, according to research firm AircraftPost. Clearly buyer interest surrounds earlier variants, perhaps stemming from the perception that there is less downside risk on many of these aircraft that have been hit so hard over the past several years.
Another model getting the once over by buyers is the G200, which has seen its values battered and inventory swell to 15 percent of its fleet for sale, with a shadow inventory that places that number even higher. Sales have occurred at a rate of two per month for the past year, but that hasn’t stemmed the flow of aircraft to the market, which has seen inventory climb to the all-time high levels last reached in 2009. With this aircraft offering such great bang for the buck, combined with increasingly attractive pricing, it would be surprising to see too much more uptick in inventory.
Perhaps experiencing an “It’s always darkest before dawn” moment, the G450 may finally see the light. With fewer than one per month selling over the last six months, prices have been shrinking markedly, to the point that buyers have re-engaged. While the transactions likely won’t be seen for another month, there are a number of reports of widespread activity. In fact, reports from industry counterparts inform that about seven G450s, or about 20 percent of the 450s currently for sale, are in various stages of negotiations. If all of these were to close you could see an abrupt halt to falling prices here.
So as 2016 begins to unfold we are continuing to see some major price adjustments, clearly needed to keep growing inventory in check during the second quarter. However, with some $1.5 million to $1.75 million quarter-over-quarter price adjustments in the large-cabin segment, it had me calculating just how much longer it would be before sellers would have to start paying buyers to take they aircraft off their hands. With such adjustments, it’s likely the price gap between manufacturers’ model types will tighten and slow the rate of depreciation that has battered so many aircraft.