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Edited Transcript of AYR earnings conference call or presentation 2-May-19 2:00pm GMT

Q1 2019 Aircastle Ltd Earnings Call

Stamford May 7, 2019 (Thomson StreetEvents) -- Edited Transcript of Aircastle Ltd earnings conference call or presentation Thursday, May 2, 2019 at 2:00:00pm GMT

TEXT version of Transcript

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Corporate Participants

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* Aaron A. Dahlke

Aircastle Limited - CFO

* Frank C. Constantinople

Aircastle Limited - SVP, IR

* Michael J. Inglese

Aircastle Limited - CEO & Director

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Conference Call Participants

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* Catherine Maureen O'Brien

Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Research Division - Equity Analyst

* James Ulan

Crédit Suisse AG, Research Division - Research Analyst

* Kristine Tan Liwag

BofA Merrill Lynch, Research Division - VP

* Scott Jean Valentin

Compass Point Research & Trading, LLC, Research Division - MD & Research Analyst

* Tyler Oliver Seidman

Cowen and Company, LLC, Research Division - Research Associate

* Vincent Albert Caintic

Stephens Inc., Research Division - MD and Senior Specialty Finance Analyst

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Presentation

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Operator [1]

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Good day and welcome to the Aircastle Q1 2019 Earnings Call. Today's conference is being recorded. At this time, I'd like to turn the conference over to Mr. Frank Constantinople. Please go ahead.

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Frank C. Constantinople, Aircastle Limited - SVP, IR [2]

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Thank you, Stephanie. Good morning, everyone and welcome to Aircastle Limited's First Quarter 2019 Earnings Call. With me today are Mike Inglese, Chief Executive Officer; Aaron Dahlke, Chief Financial Officer; Doug Winter, Chief Commercial Officer; and Mike Kriedberg, Senior Advisor.

I would like to point out that statements today, which are not historical facts, may be deemed forward-looking statements. Actual results may differ materially from the estimates or expectations expressed in those statements, and certain facts that could cause actual results to differ materially from Aircastle Limited's expectations are detailed in our SEC filings, which can also be found on our website. I'll direct you to Aircastle Limited's earnings release for the full forward-looking statement legend.

And we'll now turn the call over to Mike Inglese.

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Michael J. Inglese, Aircastle Limited - CEO & Director [3]

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Thanks, Frank. And welcome to Aircastle's first quarter 2019 Earnings call. We're happy to welcome Doug Winter, who joined us earlier this week as our new Chief Commercial Officer, and to thank Mike Kriedberg, who has been our CCO since 2013, and as we previously reported, Mike will be available to us as a Senior Advisor through the balance of this year to ensure a smooth transition of our business operations.

Today, I'm going to discuss our results for the quarter, briefly touch upon current market conditions and our strategy for the balance of the year. I'll then turn the call over to Aaron Dahlke to cover our financial results for the quarter, after which we'll open it up to Q&A.

The aircraft leasing industry continues to perform well. Air traffic growth remains strong and continues to outpace global GDP, and the demand for leased single-aisle aircraft is quite good.

Let me quickly touch on our results. After a strong performance in 2018, we're off to a good start for 2019 with Q1 diluted EPS of $0.46 a share and adjusted EPS of $0.52 a share. Our book value per share at the end of March was $26.81 per share and our trailing 12-month cash ROE was just around 12%. Our strategy continues to focus on growing in a disciplined and profitable manner, and opportunistically harvest in gains as we proactively manage our portfolio. We will always take advantage of market conditions which offer strong demands for aircraft investments to generate gains.

Over the past 3 years or so, there's been and continues to be a strong bid from buyers of mid-aged aircraft, along with abundant available liquidity. Accordingly, since the beginning of 2015, we've sold 116 aircraft for total gains of $201 million. During the first quarter, we acquired 14 aircraft for $445 million and sold 4 narrow-body aircraft along with a few CFM engines for $56 million in proceeds. For the remainder of '19, we have committed to acquire an additional 12 aircraft for more than $385 million and we have a healthy pipeline of other acquisition and sales transactions that we're working on.

In the current competitive environment, we continue to find situations that play to our competitive advantages of structuring flexibility, execution certainty and speed. And we remain focused on mid-aged narrow-body aircraft investment.

At the end of Q1 '19 our total fleet of owned aircraft was 259 aircraft with 229 or 88% of those being narrow-body. Current generation narrow bodies represented 73% of the total net book value of our fleet, more than twice the number from 5 years ago. As I told you on our year-end call, our first quarter utilization was expected to be impacted by the aircraft that were previously on lease to Avianca Brazil and Jet Airways. Our utilization of just under 94%, was well below our historical average of 99% over the last 5 years. We're happy to report we have signed long-term leases with LATAM Airlines with the 10 A320s that previously were with Avianca Brazil, that we successfully repossessed in early April.

Also in the first quarter, we were one of the first movers to ground our aircraft with Jet Airways and have signed leases on all 7 aircraft to transition to a new lessee. We expect all of the aircraft that were previously leased with Avianca Brazil and Jet to begin the return to revenue service during this quarter and some of them may drift into the third quarter. This will lead to higher gradual utilization and normalized utilization and net interest margin during the back half of this year. Of the 12 aircraft on the ground at the end of the first quarter, 10 were those 320s with Avianca Brazil.

We have a modest placement task remaining for 2019, with just 3 aircraft left to place, representing about 1.5% of our net book value. Our aircraft monitoring list was zero at the end of the quarter and we continue to have a very strong liquidity position with minimal forward commitment.

With respect to our E2 order, we continue to work campaigns with numerous potential SCs in conjunction with Embraer to develop the market for these aircraft. Our first deliveries are not scheduled until the second half of 2020. As of today, our 2019 capital allocation plan includes more than $830 million of narrow-body aircraft that we have acquired or committed to acquire, paying quarterly dividends to our common shareholders currently yielding about 6% based on yesterday's close and repurchasing almost $9 million of our current stock, common stock rather at an average price of $17.57. This average share price represents 66% in the first quarter book value of $26.81 and with 12% below the average share price of $19.91 for the first quarter.

Since our initial public offering back in August of 2006, we've now returned to combined total of $1.15 billion of capital to our investors in the form of dividends and share repurchases. This represents approximately 57% of our Q1 shareholders' equity and roughly 76% of our current market cap. Using multiple tools in this balanced capital allocation approach, Aircastle has consistently generated strong historical cash returns for our investors and we remain focused on creating long-term value, by growing the business in a conservative, accretive and profitable manner. We remain optimistic about the long-term fundamentals, underpinning our business strategy, and have strong conviction that our approach will result in long-term growth and value maximization.

Given our philosophy of providing a regular return of capital to shareholders, Aircastle's Board approved the company's 52nd consecutive quarterly dividend of $0.30 a share payable on June 14. Since 2011, we've increased the dividend 9x, tripling the payout from $0.10 a share to $0.30 per share per quarter.

Let me now spend a few minutes on the current business environment. While the IMF 2019 global GDP forecast was recently revised down modestly from 3.3% to 3.6%, it's still a healthy growth going forward. Similarly in the most recent IATA air traffic results, since the beginning of the year, showed 5.9% RPK growth through the first 2 months, down modestly from 6.5% in '18. We continue to see good demand for current technology, mid-aged narrow-body aircraft, as passenger load factors continue to be very high in January and February, averaging over 80%.

Capacity growth in February, in particular, at 5.4% was in line with traffic growth for the month. We are observing an increase in dialog with clients for near-term lease extensions and transitioning of aircraft due to the short-term impact of [8 MAX] grounding at this point. While competitive mid-aged narrow-body rentals remained strong, especially compared to rents for new aircraft, narrow-body aircraft values are healthy, due to the financing availability and low interest rates and we continue to opportunistically sell aircraft into this strength. Strong traffic growth, limited aircraft availability issues surrounding the math and relatively low oil prices have strengthened the multi-year marketability of current technology to aircraft.

The decline in interest rates this year and financing availability have enhanced the affordability and attractiveness of investing in aircraft in general. Long-term fundamentals remain strong driving new demand for air travel and aircraft. We expect air traffic to continue to grow at a rate faster than global GDP. We expect demand for aircraft leasing to grow as well. We believe the investment opportunity suited to our strategy will continue to be available, but the specific nature of those opportunities will vary over time.

Our strategy remains focused on investing in aircraft that we expect will deliver solid shareholder value growth over time. We also opportunistically will manage the portfolio and sell aircraft [to reduce] residual value risk and recognize gains along the way.

In closing, I want to highlight 3 key themes. One, we expect to continue to grow our assets and income in a disciplined fashion. Two, we have an experienced and nimble team actively managing our portfolio and able to act [offensively] and move our aircraft around the globe and ostensibly to take advantage of investment opportunities that present themselves. And three, we have strong liquidity and as an investment grade issuer, have access to attractively price capital to drive growth with minimal forward commitment.

I'll now turn the call over to Aaron to briefly review first quarter results.

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Aaron A. Dahlke, Aircastle Limited - CFO [4]

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Thanks, Mike. Aircastle had another profitable quarter and our core earnings continued to be solid. For the quarter, lease rental and finance lease revenues were $189.7 million, up 1.5% versus Q1 '18, primarily related to the aircraft carryover the past year. We recorded maintenance revenue of $16.4 million primarily associated with 2 scheduled aircraft transitions and maintenance revenue from our repossessed Avianca Brazil aircraft.

We recorded total gain on sale of $12 million. We sold engines and 4 narrow-body aircraft, including 2 aircraft to our joint venture with IBJ leasing. Net proceeds from the sale of flight permits were at $56.3 million, resulting in an $8.3 million of gain. We also recorded an additional $3.7 million of gains related to the classification of 2 aircraft and direct finance leases.

Total revenues were $213.9 million, up 5.5% versus Q1 '18 mostly due to the higher gains with sale of flight equipment and higher maintenance revenues. Total expenses increased by $22.7 million, up 15% versus Q1 '18 due to the higher depreciation driven by net aircraft acquisitions, higher interest expense due to the higher average debt balance year-over-year and higher maintenance expenses mostly associated with aircraft transitions and our portion of (inaudible) on our original estimates.

Net income was $34.8 million or $0.46 per diluted share. Adjusted EBITDA was $199.3 million, an increase of $8.2 million or 4.3% versus Q1 '18. In spite of the default of Avianca Brazil and Jet Airways, overall we generated top-line growth and had a profitable quarter. For the first quarter of 2019, our portfolio lease rental yield was 10.5% and our net cash interest margin was 7.3%. Our lower net cash interest margin was primarily due to lower lease revenue mostly driven by Avianca Brazil and Jet Airways aircraft. We expect that net cash interest margin will recover in the second half of the year to around 8% by year-end.

Turning to our capital structure, our net debt-to-equity ratio is 2.4x. Total borrowings were $4.9 billion and 84% of our debt is unsecured. Our weighted average debt is 3.2 years with a weighted average coupon of [9.6%]. We ended the quarter with $93 million of unrestricted cash and $705 million of unused revolving credit capacity. On April 30, our Board approved a $0.30 per share common dividend payable on June 14 to shareholders of record on May 31. As Mike mentioned, through April 30, we have repurchased $9 million of our shares at a weighted average cost of $17.57 per share, which is 66% of our book value per share at quarter-end and about 12% lower than the average share price during the first quarter.

For the quarter, including dividends and share repurchases, we returned a total of $31 million of capital to our investors. We have $76 million remaining under our current share repurchase authorization and we will continue to use this opportunistically. We provided our initial guidance elements in the second quarter -- for the second quarter of 2019. Our guidance reflects the higher rental revenue and we repossessed Avianca Brazil and Jet Airways aircraft to re-enter service.

To summarize, Aircastle had a strong first quarter. Our asset management skill enabled us to be nimble, minimize downtime and develop good momentum for profitable growth in 2019. We have a strong balance sheet and we remain committed to allocating capital for the maximum benefit of our investors.

And with that operator, we can now open it up for questions.

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Questions and Answers

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Operator [1]

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(Operator Instructions) Scott Valentin, Compass Point.

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Scott Jean Valentin, Compass Point Research & Trading, LLC, Research Division - MD & Research Analyst [2]

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Just with regard to the secondary market conditions, just wondering if the 737 MAX grounding is having any impact? Are you seeing more competition when you look at that aircraft? Are you seeing more potential buyers in the secondary market now? Any color you could provide would be helpful.

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Michael J. Inglese, Aircastle Limited - CEO & Director [3]

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Yes, but I'm not sure it's making a material difference in the secondary market at the moment. I think there'll be some opportunities and there are certainly customers who are looking at potential extensions or per interim lift in the context of the MAX issues. But I don't think it's a long-term phenomenon and I don't think it's, at the current moment, really affecting the strength of the sort of acquisition and sale market for those assets in a real significant way.

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Scott Jean Valentin, Compass Point Research & Trading, LLC, Research Division - MD & Research Analyst [4]

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And then just 1 housekeeping question. On the guidance on page 16, for the lease rental revenue, does that assume all the Avianca Brazil and Jet Airways aircraft are back in service in 2Q, or are you allowing for some spillover into 3Q?

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Michael J. Inglese, Aircastle Limited - CEO & Director [5]

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No, I think realistically there's going to be a little bit of spillover into the third quarter on the Avianca Brazil planes. But I think the majority of them should get back in service by June 3.

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Operator [6]

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Moshe Orenbuch, Credit Suisse.

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James Ulan, Crédit Suisse AG, Research Division - Research Analyst [7]

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This is actually James Ulan on for Moshe. We were expecting a little bit of a higher buyback and given the debt to equity ratio and the price to book, and I was wondering if you can describe some of the most important factors that influence your decision on when to do a buyback and how much to do? And maybe you could focus a little bit on the valuation and the price to book multiple in that discussion, if you can. Thank you.

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Aaron A. Dahlke, Aircastle Limited - CFO [8]

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Yes, look, we don't -- it's not a hard and fast, black and white rule of do this or do that at this level. We'll continue to look at it on an opportunistic basis. I'm not a giant fan of stock buybacks as I indicated in the past, but at some point and at some level, I think it's important to kind of put your stake in the ground there. Ultimately over time, I don't think it's a great driver of shareholder value for the long term. And so we'll continue to do it opportunistically and I don't want to be so predictable or so prescriptive. I have to consider what's going on in the marketplace, what else I think I can do with that cash and thinking about the construct and an overall return profile to investors over time.

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Operator [9]

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(Operator Instructions) Vincent Caintic, Stephens.

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Vincent Albert Caintic, Stephens Inc., Research Division - MD and Senior Specialty Finance Analyst [10]

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Just a question about the -- so, you called out the unrecognized revenues that are associated with the 2 bankrupt airlines to $0.21. I'm just wondering if you have an expectation of being able to get some or all of that back on to your balance sheet. Thanks.

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Michael J. Inglese, Aircastle Limited - CEO & Director [11]

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If you're talking about the revenue that we didn't collect in Q1 related to the 2 bankruptcies, it's not going to all come back because the net lease rates in both of those instances will be lower than the previous lease rates. But I think in the context of the Avianca Brazil assets, we are very happy to have new long-term leases with LATAM to take over those aircraft and operate them in the construct of their network and the transition of the Jet aircraft, many of which were short-term leases that were set to expire over the next year or 2. We will be transitioning in country and we'll be generating significantly -- revenue significantly close to what we were getting out of Jet in the context of those assets.

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Vincent Albert Caintic, Stephens Inc., Research Division - MD and Senior Specialty Finance Analyst [12]

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And I would think that given some of maybe the supply issues that are happening with the MAXs and even with the A320s, are you actually seeing -- I guess, how does the lease rate and the structures compare on what you've leased now with those old or with those Brazil and Jet planes versus what you had with Avianca Brazil and Jet?

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Michael J. Inglese, Aircastle Limited - CEO & Director [13]

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Look I know -- like I said before, I don't think the MAX effect has had that significant an impact on the lease rate per se in the context of the current market. In the Avianca Brazil assets, we had agreed to restructure and to rates with LATAM well before we got into the four-month process it took to get our planes back.

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Vincent Albert Caintic, Stephens Inc., Research Division - MD and Senior Specialty Finance Analyst [14]

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And so, it's nice to see that you've placed the aircraft for both of those bankrupt airlines. And it's nice to see the maintenance revenue ticked up as well when you got those back. Any -- is there going to be any transition expenses that we should be thinking about over say, the second quarter or third quarter as those get -- planes get put back into service?

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Michael J. Inglese, Aircastle Limited - CEO & Director [15]

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There'll be some modest transition expenses, but I don't think it'll be anything of the magnitude of a material amount and the construct of a normal (technical difficulty) narrow-body aircraft.

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Operator [16]

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Catherine O'Brien, Goldman Sachs.

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Catherine Maureen O'Brien, Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Research Division - Equity Analyst [17]

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So with your March quarter acquisitions and 2019 commitments, you're already tapping into $800 million here. Any thoughts on where that could end up this year to think it will be something kind of in line with the last five-year average of $1.3 billion? Just any comments on the future opportunities and how you think this year's CapEx could compare back to past years? Thanks.

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Michael J. Inglese, Aircastle Limited - CEO & Director [18]

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Look, I think it's early May, we're at little over $800 million. I think it's not unreasonable to think that we can do something north of $1 billion. It's really going to depend upon what we see and how we think it fits into the overall portfolio and also in the context of how much selling we expect to do or choose to do, as we move through the balance of the year. So I think there will be opportunities and it will really depend upon how we choose to pursue those opportunities and to what extent we think it makes sense in the context of the business environment for this year.

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Catherine Maureen O'Brien, Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Research Division - Equity Analyst [19]

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And is there -- and then maybe just a follow-up on your comment on sales. Just given the strong margins you're seeing on aircraft sales, does that entice you to maybe up-level the sales versus the past couple of years, or is it really a balancing act between continuing revenue from leases versus those gains on sales? Any thoughts there would be really helpful. Thank you.

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Michael J. Inglese, Aircastle Limited - CEO & Director [20]

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Yes, look it is a balancing act of -- and particularly in the first quarter, we sold 4 aircraft, 2 of them were like 20 years old and a couple of them were relatively new assets that we bought in the context of selling them into our joint venture with IBJ leasing. And so that was the context around first quarter sales activity. We have a number of assets out in the market now that we're pursuing sales opportunities with the number of potential buyers. We will certainly do some selling. A few years ago, I think our number was north of $800 million of sales proceeds, last year it was something less than half that. So somewhere is a balance of that, it's reasonable, but I don't expect to be selling to the extent we did in 2017. Maybe it comes closer to what we did last year. It's a balancing act of what you think you can do with those proceeds in the context of what you're trying to do with your business over time.

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Catherine Maureen O'Brien, Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Research Division - Equity Analyst [21]

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It makes sense.

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Operator [22]

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Kristine Liwag, Bank of America.

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Kristine Tan Liwag, BofA Merrill Lynch, Research Division - VP [23]

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This year you've already had 2 unexpected disruptions with Avianca Brazil and Jet. In hindsight, what kind of actions could you have done to be proactive to minimize disruption? And going forward, how these 2 events changed how you look at customer risk and do you have any other airlines in our watch list?

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Michael J. Inglese, Aircastle Limited - CEO & Director [24]

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So I don't think there is a lot I would have done differently. Quite frankly, as we think about both of these transactions and where they came out, Avianca Brazil was the decision we made about 4 years or 5 years ago. As we talked about on the last call, we thought we had very good lease rates. We thought we evaluated the credit risk in the long-term plan of the airline in the context of that timeframe and what they were doing. Their plans ultimately didn't materialize. We took the appropriate action to terminate our leases and find new homes for them.

And similarly in the context of Jet, we worked with them as long as we thought it made sense. Our deals with them were premised on relatively short-term leases and taking those assets and quoting them out when those leases are done. I don't think ultimately what happened there is going to change the outcome for what we did in the context of those assets with Jet. And so every time you are making an underwriting decision, you're evaluating the asset and you're evaluating the credit. And sometimes you don't get them right, but I think it's more important, and in our history around where we think we didn't make the right call, ultimately on a credit decision, the asset decision is very important for ultimately producing a return and generating the cash you need over time for your shareholders.

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Kristine Tan Liwag, BofA Merrill Lynch, Research Division - VP [25]

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I see. And if I look at net cash interest margin and lease portfolio yield, they both contracted about 100 basis points year-over-year, even though the weighted average age of your fleet got older. If you adjust for the aircraft that were not utilized, what would that lease yield -- what would that number have been?

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Michael J. Inglese, Aircastle Limited - CEO & Director [26]

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Yes, I think we put that in the PowerPoint charts. It's a little over 8% in the context of the net interest margin on a sort of a pro forma basis that those things didn't happen.

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Operator [27]

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(Operator Instructions) Tyler Seidman, Cowen.

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Tyler Oliver Seidman, Cowen and Company, LLC, Research Division - Research Associate [28]

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So just given your exposure to India, I think you have north of 12% of your net book value within the country. Are you evaluating potential new regions to move the Jet Airways aircraft or do you think they'll stay within the country?

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Michael J. Inglese, Aircastle Limited - CEO & Director [29]

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Look, I think in the short-term they will stay in country. But as I said before, a number of those seven were expecting -- their leases were expiring this year and next, and we were expecting a part of those assets out at the end of those leases. So I think it's going to happen more naturally in the context of our original underwriting pieces for the assets and the demand for the -- the parts of those assets going forward. As for the other few, that -- where they go, remains to be seen.

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Tyler Oliver Seidman, Cowen and Company, LLC, Research Division - Research Associate [30]

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And then just a quick modeling question. The tax rate guidance inched up a little bit, I think 7% to 8% or 8% to 9%. What's the puts and takes there and how should we be thinking about the tax rate for 2020?

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Aaron A. Dahlke, Aircastle Limited - CFO [31]

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Hey, it's Aaron. I think when you look at the tax rate (technical difficulty) it's the allocation of income between your non-tax jurisdictions and tax jurisdiction. So Avianca and Jet, in fact, was more in the [permitted] side as we look at it. So it's less kind of income, it's not less tax. And then for the year, I think we're looking at that to stay in the range of 7% to 8%.

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Operator [32]

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Thank you. There are no additional questions at this time.

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Frank C. Constantinople, Aircastle Limited - SVP, IR [33]

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Okay. Thank you, Stephanie. Thanks for your time today. I'll be at my desk for the balance of the day. Feel free to call me if you have additional questions. Have a good day.

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Operator [34]

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Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, this concludes today's presentation. You may now disconnect.