By Allison Lampert and Ankit Ajmera
(Reuters) - Pre-owned business jet prices are seen stabilizing in 2021, boosted by a December blitz of orders, after COVID-19 depressed demand and pricing last year, analysts and executives said.
A December rush was fueled by new entrants to the business jet market and U.S. buyers taking advantage of favorable tax rules they feared could change under the new U.S. administration of President Joe Biden.
"It was the busiest month I have ever seen in my 20 years of practice," said Amanda Applegate, a partner at Aerlex Law Group.
Some executives see continued interest from wealthy individuals in January for preowned and new jets, helping prices, although corporate demand was sluggish.
"We certainly do expect to see better pricing," Textron Inc. Chief Executive Scott Donnelly told analysts on Wednesday.
The maker of Beechcraft and Cessna planes had "better pricing" in its aviation unit during the fourth quarter, Donnelly said, and sees "continued order momentum," despite COVID-19.
While business aviation has recovered faster from the pandemic than commercial airlines, COVID-19 weighed on 2020 deliveries.
General Dynamics Corp missed Wall Street estimates for quarterly profit and revenue on Wednesday, after delivering fewer Gulfstream jets due to the pandemic.
Canada's Bombardier reports earnings on Feb. 11.
Pre-owned jet inventory dropped to 8% this month, the lowest recorded level to date in this millennium, analyst Rolland Vincent said, citing JETNET figures. A tighter preowned market normally helps pricing and sales of new planes.
The preowned market has roughly four times the transactions as the new plane market, Vincent said.
"I do think it gets firmer this year," Vincent said of pre-owned and new plane pricing.
A recent survey of 102 jet brokers published by Jefferies showed the average discount on the list price of a new business jet narrowed to about 14% this month, compared with 16% before the pandemic.
List prices for business jets vary from around $9 million for Embraer SA's Phenom 300, according to Jefferies, to about $73 million for Bombardier's large cabin Global 7500.
On average, 2020 asking prices on preowned business jets were 10% lower than in 2019, according to a JETNET analysis.
Preowned planes sold to operators in the United States, the world's largest corporate jet market, rebounded to at least 1,828 aircraft in 2020, up from 1,651 in 2019, according to Amstat business aviation aircraft market research.
Florida attorney Stewart Lapayowker said some recent buying was over concerns about potential tax changes after reforms implemented during the Trump administration provided for accelerated depreciation for aircraft.
Don Dwyer, managing partner at Guardian Jet, sees "pent up demand" this year for new planes following a December surge in preowned deals that continued into January.
"There wasn't a year end," he said. "It just kept going."
(Reporting By Allison Lampert in Montreal and Ankit Ajmera in Bangalore; Editing by Richard Pullin and Bernadette Baum)