Delta Air Lines Continues to Struggle With Capacity

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Delta Air Lines Inc. (NYSE: DAL) reported third-quarter 2016 results before markets opened Thursday. The airline reported adjusted quarterly earnings per share (EPS) of $1.70 on revenues of $10.48 billion. In the same period a year ago, Delta reported EPS of $1.74 on revenues of $11.1 billion. Third-quarter results also compare to the consensus estimates for EPS of $1.65 on revenues of $10.55 billion.

On a GAAP basis, Delta’s EPS for the quarter totaled $1.69. GAAP EPS in the third quarter of last year totaled $1.74.

Adjusted to include mark-to-market impacts, mainline fuel cost averaged $1.48 a gallon, a drop of $0.32 a gallon year over year and down by $0.49 per gallon sequentially. The third quarter fuel cost includes a loss of $0.04 per gallon at the company’s Trainer refinery.

Operating revenues declined by 6% year over year. Mainline revenues dropped 6%, and on a passenger unit basis mainline revenues were down 6.8%. Total passenger revenues dropped 5%.

CEO Ed Bastian said:

With our focus on building a more sustainable and durable business, we will be taking a cautious approach to 2017 by keeping our capacity in line with the December quarter’s 1 percent growth level.

President Glen Hauenstein added:

While we were encouraged by our unit revenue trends through the September quarter, we have more work ahead of us to achieve our goal of positive unit revenues. With further slowing of our capacity growth in the December quarter and additional traction on our revenue management initiatives, we should make progress against that goal and we expect our December quarter unit revenues to decline by 3-5 percent year over year.

For the fourth quarter, the airline forecast operating margin of 14% to 16%, passenger unit revenue down 3% to 5%, fuel prices in a range of $1.60 to $1.65 per gallon, and costs per available seat mile up 1% to 2%, compared with the fourth quarter of last year.

In the third quarter the company paid $150 million in dividends and repurchased $500 million in stock.

Shares traded down about 0.7% at $39.00 in Thursday’s premarket. The stock’s 52-week range is $32.60 to $52.77. Over the past 52 weeks, shares are down 18.5%, and for the year to date shares are down about 22%.