How Delta Earnings, Guidance Are Boosting Airline Stocks

Delta Air Lines Inc. (NYSE: DAL) posted first-quarter 2018 results before markets opened Thursday. The airline reported adjusted quarterly earnings per share (EPS) of $0.74 on operating revenues of $9.97 billion. In the same period a year ago, Delta reported EPS of $0.71 on revenues of $9.1 billion. Fourth-quarter results also compare to the consensus estimates for EPS of $0.73 on revenues of $9.84 billion.

The airline guided second-quarter 2018 EPS at $1.80 to $2.00 on a pretax margin of 14% to 16%. Unit revenue, excluding refinery sales, are forecast to rise 3% to 5%. Seating capacity is expected to rise 3% to 4%, and consolidated available seat miles are forecast to rise by 1% to 3%, excluding fuel costs and profit-sharing.

Delta President Glen Hauenstein said:

We are seeing Delta’s best revenue momentum since 2014, with positive domestic unit revenues, improvements in all our international entities, strong demand for corporate travel and double-digit increases in our loyalty revenues. With our solid pipeline of commercial initiatives, delivered with industry-leading Delta service, we expect to maintain this momentum and deliver total revenue growth of 4 to 6 percent for the full year.

Delta Chief Financial Officer Paul Jacobson added:

We expect unit cost growth of 1 to 3 percent in the June quarter, as we lap prior year investments in our people and our business. As we move through depreciation pressure from our fleet retirements and gain benefits from our upgauging and One Delta initiatives later in the year, we are on track for our 0 to 2 percent full year unit cost target.

After airline stocks took a beating on Wednesday, Delta’s performance is putting some air under their wings again this morning. United Continental Holdings Inc. (NYSE: UAL) was up 1.22% at $65.65. Southwest Airlines Co. (NYSE: LUV) was up 0.8% at $53.50. And American Airlines Group Inc. (NASDAQ: AAL) is up 1.8% at $45.40.

American is expected to report results later this month, and analysts are looking for EPS of $0.66 for the quarter, up from $0.61 in the first quarter of 2017. Revenues are forecast at $10.42 billion, up from the prior year’s quarterly total of $9.62 billion.

United Continental is scheduled to report earnings on April 25. Analysts have forecast quarterly EPS at $0.25, down from $0.41 a year ago, and revenues of $8.96 billion, up 6.4% from last year’s total of $8.42 billion.

Southwest reports earnings on April 26 and analysts estimate EPS at $0.75. They were $0.61 a year ago. And revenue of $5.02 billion would be a 2.8% year-over-year increase.

Delta shares traded up about 2% at $51.47 in Thursday’s premarket session. The stock’s 52-week range is $43.81 to $60.59, and the 12-month consensus price target is $73.00.