By John Hughes
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
United Airlines parent UAL, US Airways Group and JetBlue Airways posted second-quarter losses yesterday as record fuel prices helped push industry-wide job cuts to 26,000.
Airline stocks soared as results beat analysts' estimates and crude oil fell to a six-week low. United, the world's second-largest airline, boosted planned job reductions to 7,000 by the end of 2009. US Airways said it would pare 18 percent more jobs than previously planned, and JetBlue said its cutbacks would be "commensurate" with plans for reduced flight capacity.
"This is the inevitable consequence of the high fuel costs," said Dave Swierenga, president of consulting firm AeroEcon in Round Rock, Tex., in an interview. "When you put an airplane on the ground, you stop consuming fuel, so there's an immediate benefit."
Yesterday's results push combined second-quarter losses at six of the eight largest U.S. carriers to $5.8 billion. The industry as a whole this year has announced the elimination of 26,000 jobs. Through the first half, only one of the biggest companies, Southwest Airlines has managed a quarterly profit.
AMR's American Airlines, Continental Airlines and Delta Air Lines last week cited a doubling of fuel prices in the past year as they posted deficits. Analysts expect Northwest Airlines to announce a loss today and Southwest to post its second profit of the year on July 24.
The second-quarter loss at Chicago-based UAL was $2.73 billion, or $21.47 a share, compared with year-earlier profit of $274 million ($1.83). Excluding a write-down for severance, United's loss was $151 million ($1.19 a share) less than the $2.05 estimated by analysts in a Bloomberg survey.
UAL shares jumped $3.42, or 68.5 percent, to close at $8.41 in Nasdaq Stock Market composite trading after the company said it will get a $600 million payment from credit card partner J.P. Morgan Chase under a new agreement to buy frequent-flier miles.
US Airways added $1.58, or 58.7 percent, to $4.27 on the New York Stock Exchange. JetBlue rose 61 cents, or 16 percent, to $4.50 in Nasdaq trading.
US Airways, based in Tempe, Ariz., recorded a $567 million loss, or $6.16 a share. Excluding certain items, the loss was $1.11 a share, less than the $1.30 analysts expected. The airline plans to cut seating capacity by 2 percent more in the fourth quarter to cope with fuel costs.
New fees including $2 for soda and coffee, and $15 to check one bag and $25 for the second bag will generate up to $500 million in annual revenue, Chief Financial Officer Derek Kerr said yesterday on a conference call.
The carrier said it will cut 2,000 jobs, up from a previous target of 1,700.
JetBlue lost $7 million after earning $21 million from April through June last year. The 3-cents-a-share loss was narrower than the 7-cent average estimate in a Bloomberg survey.
The New York-based carrier said it would cut seating capacity by 10 percent in September in response to fuel costs. The airline is also deferring delivery of 10 Embraer E190 regional jets and agreed on a $110 million line of credit with Citigroup Global Markets.
Crude oil, which is refined into jet fuel, fell $3.09 to $127.95 a barrel on forecasts a tropical storm in the Gulf of Mexico will miss oil fields and refineries, easing concern that supplies will be disrupted.