May 13, 2011 / 6:07 AM / 7 years ago

UPDATE 4-Record cash pile boosts EADS but draws flak

* Revenue, operating profit higher than expected

* Q1 free cashflow 309 million euros

* Q1 net loss 12 mln euros due to dollar accounting

(Adds Boeing quote, sources on production increase)

By Tim Hepher and Alexandria Sage

PARIS, May 13 (Reuters) - Airbus parent EADS EAD.PA faced new criticism over state funding as its cash pile hit a record 12.2 billion euros ($17.3 billion) on Friday, only weeks after receiving European pledges to bail out a troubled plane project.

Swelled by deposits from airlines ready to invest in new aircraft, the growing wealth of Europe’s largest aerospace company confirms an economic rebound. Its shares rose by 5 percent, backed by encouraging first-quarter results.

But its cash surplus remains a distraction for EADS, which last month closed a deal with European nations for a 3.5 billion euro bailout of its A400M army plane and plans to use a disputed system of state loans for its Airbus A350 airliner.

In Germany, opposition Greens accused EADS of strong-arming European governmments into agreeing to provide the A400M funding by suggesting the Franco-German-led company could collapse.

“It doesn’t match up. On one side EADS insists on a bailout, arguing that the company would face the end otherwise. But their balance sheet speaks a completely different language,” said Omid Nouripour, a member of the German parliament and defence expert for the opposition Greens.

“Mr (former defence minister Karl-Theodor) zu Guttenberg seems to have let himself be blackmailed with false figures,” Nouripour told Reuters in Berlin.

EADS chief Executive Louis Gallois defended the bailout, under which some of the money will be paid back from exports.

“I don’t think it (the cash surplus) is changing anything. The bailout money is to reduce the level of losses we have,” Gallois told Reuters at a Paris meeting of business leaders.

EADS has also been fiercely criticised by U.S. rival Boeing (BA.N) over its resources as their respective governments battle over civil aircraft subsidies at the World Trade Organization.

The latest net cash position, up from 8.8 billion euros a year ago, emerged days before the EU is due to hear the results of its appeal against a WTO ruling that some loans from European governments amounted to prohibited export subsidies.

“Why should Europe’s taxpayers continue to pump cash into a private company with such a cash mountain at a time when European governments are requiring huge efforts from taxpayers and workers to finance pensions and cut public debt?,” said Boeing spokesman Charlie Miller.

Airbus says the loan system is fair and last month the EU won a partial victory in a counter-suit over U.S. aid to Boeing, which European governments describe as a more harmful system.

Analysts said EADS must answer to investors calling for it to put its warchest to good use -- while targets in the protectionist defence sector are scarce -- and simultaneously maintain support from taxpayers to research and build aircraft.

“If they are unable to find suitable acquisitions or find anything else to do with the money, then they have to distribute it to shareholders through a share buyback or special dividend,” said Howard Wheeldon, senior strategist at BGC Partners.

“They must retain cash for future developments but if they generate cash at this level, then they must find further use for it or give up the possibility of any future government support for developing commercial aircraft.”

PRODUCTION INCREASE

EADS’ first-quarter operating profit more than doubled to 192 million euros on revenue up 10 percent to 9.85 billion as passenger jets, helicopters and space offset a slump in defence.

The Franco-German-led group had been expected to post quarterly operating earnings of 94.5 million euros and revenue of 9.21 billion, according to a Reuters poll of 10 analysts.

The recovery is especially strong in emerging markets and has prompted Airbus to draw up plans to raise production of its best-selling A320 jet family from a planned level of 40 a month.

Two sources said the new target would be 42 planes a month and that Airbus was studying whether to go to 44 -- a figure finance chief Hans Peter Ring described as “a bit of a stretch”.

The company said it saw significant prospects for its latest jet design, a version of the A320 with more efficient engines, and predicted good sales at the Paris air show next month.

“The emerging markets are very, very strong for European and American companies that make the right goods,” said Sanjay Joshi, portfolio manager, London & Capital.

“We are going to see a significant increase in transport (with) focus on airports and passenger travel. Airbus is very well placed.”

While the civil upturn has cheered investors, EADS seeks new acquisitions to dampen reliance on airliners after bidding $640 million to buy Canadian repair firm Vector Aerospace RNO.TO.

After setting aside cash for future developments, it has targeted acquisitions worth 1-2 billion euros with an emphasis mainly on defence and services in the United States.

Ring suggested the latest cash position had increased this.

“There is probably more flexibility but I don’t have a scientific number,” Ring told reporters. ($1=.7045 Euro) (Additional reporting by Sabine Siebold, Cyril Altmeyer, Jeremy Gaunt, Editing by James Regan, Sophie Walker and Alexander Smith)

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