Buses were deemed essential services during the lockdown period and kept running and this week the UK government announced a package worth around £27mln a week to support bus operators indefinitely.
Many of National Express’s operations in Spain, Morocco and the US also have fixed revenues but bus usage slumped during lockdown and have only started to recover slowly from the height of lockdown, the group said.
In most areas, passenger numbers are now at between 45% and 65% of pre-pandemic levels, though UK coaches are only at 20%.
National Express's revenues in the six months to end-June, 2020, fell by 22.7% to £1.03bn, while there was a pre-tax loss of £122mln.
Net debt at the end of June was £1.34bn, though National Express said it had £1.7bn in cash, committed facilities and government loan schemes and generated cash in the second quarter.
In a statement, National Express said: “An unprecedented and immediate drop in passenger demand of 80% following lockdown was mitigated by strong and proactive customer engagement to limit revenue loss to 50%.
“Coupled with swift action to significantly reduce service and thereby save variable costs as far as was possible so that we remained EBITDA positive and generated a £270mln cash inflow in Q2.”
“While unable to predict when pre-pandemic levels of demand will return we remain optimistic about the future as high quality, clean and green mass transit must be at the heart of the global recovery,” it added.
Broker Liberum Capital noted that prospects of a quick and sharp recovery are fading, and it has cut forecasts and reduced its share price target to 300p from 390p previously.