American Airlines Earnings Jump on Tax Treatment

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American Airlines Group Inc. (NASDAQ: AAL) reported third-quarter 2016 earnings before markets opened Thursday. The airline posted adjusted diluted earnings per share (EPS) of $2.80 on revenues of $10.59 billion. In the same period a year ago, the company reported EPS of $2.77 on revenues of $10.71 billion. Third-quarter results also compare to the Thomson Reuters consensus estimates for EPS of $1.57 and $10.56 billion in revenues.

On a GAAP basis, American reported EPS of $1.40 compared with $2.49 in the year-ago quarter. The airline’s results include a $452 million provision for income taxes, of which $449 is non-cash due to a net operating loss utilization. There was no income tax provision in the year-ago quarter.

In the third quarter, the company returned $669 billion to shareholders through the payment of $53 million in quarterly dividends and the repurchase of $616 million of common stock (18.2 million shares). American said it has returned more than $9 billion to shareholders since initiating its capital return program in mid-2014.

Third-quarter revenue dipped 1.1% year over year, which the company attributed to competitive capacity growth, continued macroeconomic softness outside of the United States and foreign currency weakness. Total passenger revenue per available seat mile was 14.73 cents, down 2.2% compared with the third quarter of 2015. Consolidated passenger yield was 15.27 cents, down 0.6% year over year.

American’s cost per available seat mile on its mainline flights increased by 5.6% to 11.96 cents. Excluding fuel and special charges, mainline costs rose 8.9% to 9.32 cents per available seat mile.

Operating costs were up, revenues and net income were down, and the big beat on adjusted EPS was due to a non-cash tax benefit. This may be one of those times when something that can’t last, won’t.

Chairman and CEO Doug Parker said:

These outstanding results are due to the efforts of our more than 100,000 team members, who are working tirelessly to improve our operations, product, and customer experience. Nowhere are these efforts more evident than through the seamless completion of our largest IT cutover yet, which combined our fleet and pilot groups onto one system, with no disruption to service. We’re already seeing the benefits as this cutover enables us to schedule our pilots and aircraft as one airline and allows us to further optimize our network to better meet the needs of our passengers.

The company did not provide guidance in its release but said it would provide details following its conference call scheduled for Thursday morning at 8:30 a.m. ET. Consensus estimates call for fourth-quarter EPS of $0.83 and revenues of $9.51 billion. For the full year, analysts are looking for EPS of $5.44 and revenues of $39.88 billion.

Shares closed at $40.63 on Wednesday, in a 52-week range of $24.85 to $47.09. The stock traded up nearly 3% in Thursday’s premarket session at around $41.81. The 12-month price target was $40.69 before the announcement.

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