AP

Holiday payoff: Delta Air Lines posts $828M profit in 4Q

Jan 13, 2023, 4:42 AM | Updated: 2:51 pm

Delta Air Lines said Friday that it earned $828 million in the fourth quarter and that consumers are still snapping up flights and making purchases with their airline-branded credit cards.

The Atlanta-based airline said momentum has carried over into the new year, as the travel industry continues to recover from the worst of the pandemic.

Delta shares closed down 3.5% Friday, however, after the airline gave a disappointing outlook for first-quarter earnings. CEO Ed Bastian said the forecast included the estimated cost of a new contract for pilots, which is awaiting a ratification vote, while many analysts did not consider that expense in their predictions.

Delta’s report came a day after American Airlines delivered a rosy update on its fourth quarter, saying that rising revenue would push earnings per share to nearly double the amount that Wall Street expected.

Both carriers and other U.S. airlines have been helped by strong demand for travel and a limited number of flights — a combination that has pushed fares higher.

Airlines say that a shortage of pilots, especially at regional feeder airlines, has curtailed their ability to operate more flights. However, Delta expects to be operating at around full pre-pandemic levels by this summer.

Investors are starting to worry that as airlines become convinced that the travel recovery is permanent, they will add flights in a bid to grab a bigger share of the market and wind up driving fares lower. That is good for travelers but bad for airline investors, and it has happened many times in the industry.

However, it is unclear whether consumers will continue to spend freely on travel while facing higher prices for food, housing and other essentials. Even though inflation eased in December for the sixth straight month, it remained a staggering 6.5% compared with a year earlier.

For many people eager to resume traveling, 2022 was a difficult year. Airlines struggled to rebuild from deep job cuts they made early in the pandemic, leading to stretches of widespread flight cancellations in the summer. In December, a winter storm caused more disruptions.

Delta officials said they saw an uptick in bookings when Southwest Airlines canceled thousands of flights late last month, but they don’t expect the gains to last.

Bastian said the industry’s biggest challenge this year is to restore people’s confidence in the travel system.

“We know the public wants to travel an outsized amount,” he said. “We have to do our very best not to disappoint them.”

For now, though, most airline executives remain upbeat, as do analysts who track the industry.

“Demand remains strong, pricing is likely to remain favorable due to industry capacity constraints,” and Delta is boosting revenue from sources other than main-cabin customers, Cowen airline analyst Helane Becker said.

Bank of America analyst Andrew Didora said he expects Delta to boost free cash flow generation in 2023, allowing it to pay down debt more effectively than American or United. He said Delta is likely to increase its share of the U.S. air-travel market as it increases flights at its most important airports: Atlanta, Detroit, Minneapolis and Salt Lake City.

Delta’s fourth-quarter profit compared with $1.1 billion in the same quarter of 2019, the last one before the pandemic devastated the U.S. airline business.

Excluding some items, Delta said its adjusted profit worked out to $1.48 per share, 16 cents better than Wall Street predicted, according to a FactSet survey of analysts.

Revenue rose to more than $13.4 billion, again beating expectations.

Delta took in $1.5 billion from spending by customers using their airline-branded American Express credit cards. That was up 40% from three years ago. Another $1.1 billion came from from Delta’s refinery near Philadelphia.

The company earned $1.3 billion for the year, its best since 2019, when it made more than $4.7 billion.

Delta predicted that first-quarter earnings will be 15 to 40 cents per share, below the 59 cents forecast by analysts in the FactSet survey. Delta stood by a recent forecast of full-year earnings between $5 and $6 per share.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

A demonstrator in Tel Aviv holds a sign calling for a cease-fire in the Hamas-Israel war on Nov. 21...

Associated Press

Hamas releases a third group of hostages as part of truce, and says it will seek to extend the deal

The fragile cease-fire between Israel and Hamas was back on track Sunday as the first American was released under a four-day truce.

4 days ago

Men look over the site of a deadly explosion at Al-Ahli Hospital in Gaza City, Wednesday, Oct. 18, ...

Associated Press

New AP analysis of last month’s deadly Gaza hospital explosion rules out widely cited video

The Associated Press is publishing an updated visual analysis of the deadly Oct. 17 explosion at Gaza's Al-Ahli Hospital.

7 days ago

Peggy Simpson holds a photograph of law enforcement carrying Lee Harvey Oswald's gun through a hall...

Associated Press

JFK assassination remembered 60 years later by surviving witnesses to history, including AP reporter

Peggy Simpson is among the last surviving witnesses who are sharing their stories as the nation marks the 60th anniversary.

7 days ago

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, chairs the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, Sunday, ...

Associated Press

Israeli Cabinet approves cease-fire with Hamas; deal includes release of 50 hostages

Israel’s Cabinet on Wednesday approved a cease-fire deal with the Hamas militant group that would bring a temporary halt to a devastating war.

8 days ago

Republican presidential candidate and former President Donald Trump helps serve food to Texas Natio...

Associated Press

Trump receives endorsement from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott during a visit to a US-Mexico border town

Donald Trump picked up the Texas governor’s endorsement Sunday during a visit to a U.S.-Mexico border town.

10 days ago

Eric Trump, executive vice president of Trump Organization Inc., speaks to the media as he leaves f...

Associated Press

Lawyers in Trump’s civil fraud trial are ordered to clam up about judge’s communications with staff

Eric Trump testified Friday that he was relying on accountants to ensure the accuracy of financial statements.

26 days ago

Sponsored Articles

...

Desert Institute for Spine Care

Desert Institute for Spine Care (DISC) wants to help Valley residents address back, neck issues through awake spine surgery

As the weather begins to change, those with back issues can no longer rely on the dry heat to aid their backs. That's where DISC comes in.

...

SCHWARTZ LASER EYE CENTER

Key dates for Arizona sports fans to look forward to this fall

Fall brings new beginnings in different ways for Arizona’s professional sports teams like the Cardinals and Coyotes.

...

DAY & NIGHT AIR CONDITIONING, HEATING AND PLUMBING

Importance of AC maintenance after Arizona’s excruciating heat wave

An air conditioning unit in Phoenix is vital to living a comfortable life inside, away from triple-digit heat.

Holiday payoff: Delta Air Lines posts $828M profit in 4Q