Delta upbeat despite Q3 loss

Published October 22, 2009 11:12 pm
Earnings » 'Right-sizing' expected to help financial picture after $161M shortfall.
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Delta Air Lines, which maintains its Western-most domestic airport hub in Salt Lake City, reported a third-quarter loss of $161 million as falling revenue from passengers affected by the recession offset the benefit of lower jet-fuel prices.

The company, though, is projecting that operationally it will break even in the fourth quarter as it continues to "right-size" by reducing the number of available seats.

"For the second consecutive quarter, our operating revenues were down about 20 percent year-on-year, which shows the severity of this economic downturn," CEO Richard Anderson said in a conference call with analysts and the media.

Anderson noted that advance ticket purchases indicate passenger numbers will improve through the end of this year for the world's largest air carrier. "The holiday periods, in particular, are showing encouraging trends for both volumes and fares on peak travel days."

Delta, which said its third-quarter revenue dropped 21 percent, to $7.57 billion, already may be taking steps to boost its fourth-quarter passenger revenue.

Rick Seaney, the CEO of the Web site FareCompare.com, said Delta on Wednesday evening increased the price of its round-trip tickets by $10 on most of its popular routes.

"Their fare hike signals that consumers need to be shopping now and buying their holiday tickets promptly," Seaney said. "All indications are that there will be a lot of planes that will be really full."

FareCompare.com tracks airfares charged by the world's 500 airlines. It is updated 11 times a day for international flights and three times a day for domestic flights.

Seaney noted that Continental and American also raised fares, and that United and U.S. Airways probably will follow suit. "If this hike sticks, it will be the fifth airfare increase this year."

Delta's 2009 third-quarter loss of 19 cents per share widened from a loss of $50 million, or 13 cents per share, reported the same quarter of the previous fiscal year. However, absent special items related to its merger with Northwest, Delta would have reported net income of $51 mil- lion, or 6 cents per share.

For the September quarter, Delta said total operating expenses decreased $2.1 billion year-over-year, a figure that included $1.7 billion in lower fuel costs.

Barbara Gann, spokes- woman for Salt Lake City International Airport, said the quarterly ebb and flow of Delta's financial picture will have little effect on that facility in the short term.

Longer term, though, could be different.

"They have been redeploying equipment and adjusting the frequencies of some flights to certain markets," she said. "It is all part of adjusting to a market that is in flux."

As an example, Gann pointed to Delta's decision in August to suspend its new nonstop service to Tokyo from Salt Lake City.

Pointing to the weak economy, a drop-off in air travel and fears about the H1N1 flu virus as reasons Delta halted the flights Oct. 1 and said it would start them up again in May 2010.

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Other airline earnings

US Airways » joined formation with the other big carriers and reported a third-quarter loss as it cut fares and flew less. The airline lost $80 million as revenue fell 16.6 percent from the same period last year, to $2.72 billion. However, the loss was smaller than analysts expected.

Alaska Air Group » Improvements made in on-time performance and being insulated from the slump in international travel helped the airline post a profit. The operator of Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air recorded an $87.6 million profit, or $2.46 a share, compared with a net loss of $86.5 million, or $2.40 a share, a year ago.

AirTran Airways » its parent company reported a $10.4 million profit, or 8 cents a share, even though sales declined more than 11 percent. A year ago it reported a restated $94.6 million loss, or 81 cents a share.

Continental Airlines Inc. » the fourth-biggest U.S. carrier said its loss narrowed more than analysts expected, to $18 million, as spending for jet fuel tumbled 51 percent. The net loss of 14 cents a share shrank from $230 million, or $2.09, a year earlier. The carrier had a profit of 2 cents a share, beating an average profit estimate of less than 1 cent.



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