Analysis for The Americas
Persistently high fuel costs and challenges in a passenger system information technology cutover pushed United Airlines into a loss for 1Q2012 as its unit revenues lagged behind US legacy peers. Forecasts for the month of Apr-2012 show the lacklustre revenue performance continuing before heading into May-2012 when comparisons become increasingly difficult due to numerous fare increases pushed through in 2011. Despite the weak performance relative to the rest of the US airline industry, United remains confident it is taking the right steps through its merger with Continental Airlines to remain competitive over the long term. But for the moment the carrier is not disclosing a timetable of when it might close the unit revenue gap with its industry peers.
Special charges related to the passenger service system cutover in March and other integration expenses pushed United to a 1Q USD448 million loss compared with a loss of USD213 million the year prior. The cutover was the final step in combining United and Continental, and now that it is complete the Continental name has been retired.
Despite 1Q loss, Delta is bullish on profitability as it strengthens hubs and cuts Atlantic capacity
Delta Air Lines intends to improve this year on the USD1.2 billion profit it posted in 2011 despite recording a pre-tax USD36 million loss 1Q2012. The carrier believes strong demand and revenue trends will continue throughout 2012, allowing it to recoup increases in fuel expenditure that rose USD250 million during the first three months of 2012.
The pre-tax loss was a USD355 million year-on-year improvement of Delta’s 1Q2011 results, driven by a strong revenue performance despite headlines of a spreading recession in Europe and the uncertain ripple effects of the continent’s economic woes. Factoring in USD136 million in special items, including the favourable settlement of fuel hedges and a USD39 million gain from the settlement of its airport slot swap with US Airways, Delta recorded a USD163 million profit. Its net loss excluding those items was USD39 million.
A first quarter loss at Southwest Airlines was accompanied by a better-than-expected result in the carrier’s unit cost performance driven in part by labour productivity improvements. The carrier is striking a cautiously optimistic tone regarding the rest of the year, indicating it should record a favourable financial performance if fuel prices remain at current levels. But until Southwest completes the integration of AirTran Airways into its operations by 2014, the carrier will be constrained in reaching its full revenue potential.
Favourable gains on the settling of certain fuel hedge contracts helped Southwest to record a first quarter profit of USD98 million. But excluding special items the carrier’s loss was USD18 million compared with a USD20 million profit the year prior. The airline’s operating income tumbled USD100 million to USD10 million as the carrier recorded fuel and oil expense of USD1.5 billion, a 45.5% rise from 1Q2011. On a combined basis with AirTran, Southwest’s operating revenue was USD86 million.