JetBlue Cuts Growth Estimates as Fuel Costs Outpace Revenue Growth

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Low-cost carrier JetBlue Airways Corp. (NASDAQ: JBLU) announced its May traffic results Friday morning, and the report weighed heavily on the stock at the opening bell. The airline said that May traffic rose 10.7% compared with May 2015, but the airline’s capacity increased by 12.5% in the same period.

When capacity rises faster than traffic, an airline is flying empty seats. In JetBlue’s case, May’s load factor was 84.6%, down 1.1 percentage points compared with May 2015. Revenue per available seat mile dropped about 7% year over year.

The poor showing in May led JetBlue to revise its capacity growth forecast from a prior range of 8.5% to 10.5% to a new range of 8.0% to 9.5%. The airline cited the “fuel and revenue environments” as areas that contributed to the change.

Year to date, available seat miles are up 13%, load factor is down 0.6% and revenue passenger miles are up 12.2%.

Higher jet fuel costs are hitting all airlines, as the prices have risen by nearly 50% in the past two months. Revenues have suffered from ticket-price discounting and increased seating capacity.

On Monday, JetBlue succeeded in boosting domestic U.S. one-way fares by $3. Virtually every other major U.S. carrier immediately followed suit, and the increases, ironically and perhaps miraculously, stuck. An airline typically cancels fare hikes if other carriers don’t quickly follow along. Out of 12 tries at raising fares so far in 2016, only six have succeeded. That’s still better than the 18% success rate in the two-year period between 2013 and 2015, according to a report at Bloomberg News citing JPMorgan analyst Jamie Baker.

JetBlue’s shares dropped to a low of $17.71 early Friday¬†morning, down nearly 4% from Thursday’s closing price. Shares traded at $18.30, down about 0.7% just after noon, in a 52-week range of $16.26 to $27.36.