Saturday, 17 April 2021

Delta Air Lines records $2.9 billion loss for first quarter 2021


U.S. mega-carrier Delta Air Lines this week reported its financial results for the March quarter 2021 and provided its outlook for the June quarter 2021.  Highlights of the March quarter 2021 results:

  March quarter 2021 GAAP pre-tax loss of $1.5 billion and loss per share of $1.85 on total revenue of $4.2 billion
    March quarter 2021 adjusted pre-tax loss of $2.9 billion and adjusted loss per share of $3.55 on adjusted operating revenue of $3.6 billion
    Acceleration in demand supported positive cash generation in the month of March, marking a critical milestone in our recovery
“A year after the onset of the pandemic, travellers are gaining confidence and beginning to reclaim their lives. Delta is accelerating into the recovery with our brand stronger and more trusted than ever before,” said Ed Bastian, Delta’s chief executive officer.  “Thanks to the incredible efforts of our people, we achieved positive daily cash generation in the month of March, a remarkable accomplishment considering our middle seat block and the low level of demand for business and international travel.  If recovery trends hold, we expect positive cash generation for the June quarter and see a path to return to profitability in the September quarter as the demand recovery progresses.”

March Quarter Financial Results 

    Adjusted pre-tax loss of $2.9 billion excludes $1.2 billion of benefit related to the first payroll support program extension (PSP2), which is partially offset among other items by the debt extinguishment charges incurred when prepaying our $1.5 billion slots, gates and routes term loan
    Adjusted operating revenue of $3.6 billion declined 65 percent on 55 percent lower sellable capacity versus March quarter 2019
    Total operating expense, which includes the $1.2 billion benefit related to PSP2, decreased $3.9 billion over the March quarter 2019.  Adjusted for the benefit related to PSP2 and third-party refinery sales, total operating expense decreased $3.1 billion or 33 percent in the March quarter compared to March quarter 2019, driven by capacity- and revenue-related expense reductions, lower salaries and related costs and strong cost management across the business
    During the March quarter, cash burn  averaged $11 million per day and turned positive in the month of March with cash generation of $4 million per day
    At the end of the March quarter, the company had $16.6 billion in liquidity, including cash and cash equivalents, short-term investments and undrawn revolving credit facilities.  The company had total debt and finance lease obligations of $29.0 billion with adjusted net debt of $19.1 billion, which was higher than prior guidance as a result of aircraft financing decisions

Revenue Environment“Recent demand trends are encouraging with rising confidence in air travel as vaccination rates improve and travel restrictions ease, with current domestic leisure bookings 85% recovered to 2019 levels,” said Glen Hauenstein, Delta’s president.  “In the June quarter, we expect significant sequential improvement in revenue as leisure demand accelerates into the peak summer period and we add capacity efficiently with the removal of our seat block May 1 with revenues recovering to 45 to 50 percent of 2019.”

Delta’s adjusted operating revenue of $3.6 billion for the March quarter was down 65 percent compared to the March quarter 2019, a four-point sequential improvement from December quarter 2020.  Passenger revenues declined 70 percent in the March quarter 2021 compared to March quarter 2019 on 55 percent lower sellable capacity as Delta was the only carrier to continue blocking middle seats.  Domestic passenger revenues were down 66 percent versus March quarter 2019, but up more than five-points in comparison to the preceding quarter’s results-driven by leisure demand.  International passenger revenue remains limited at down 81 percent compared to March quarter 2019, driven by continued travel restrictions.

For the month of March, passenger revenue was 50 percent higher than February, nearly 15-points better than normal seasonality trends driven by momentum in leisure demand.  Net cash sales, defined as tickets purchased less tickets refunded, doubled from the month of January to the month of March and are continuing to improve. Corporate demand declined 80 percent versus the March quarter 2019.  The corporate recovery showed signs of improvement during the quarter with March volumes improving relative to February at a rate twice the normal seasonal growth between the two months.

Non-ticket revenues outperformed passenger revenues, with cargo revenues up 12 percent versus the Marchquarter 2019 and total loyalty revenues down 48 percent.  American Express remuneration declined 23 percent over the same period as card spend continues to recover faster than passenger traffic.  

Cost Performance

“I’m pleased with how the team came together to deliver for each other and our customers, while producing great cost performance.  As the recovery begins to take root, I’m excited to see our focus shift from stabilizing the company’s financial position to creating value by returning to profitability, generating cash and restoring our balance sheet,” said Gary Chase, Delta’s interim co-chief financial officer.  “We expect to narrow our June quarter adjusted pre-tax loss to $1 to $1.5 billion, with progressive improvement to a breakeven result for the month of June.” 

Total adjusted operating expense for the March quarter decreased $3.1 billion excluding the $1.2 billion PSP2benefit and other COVID-19 related items.  Delta’s CASM was 9 percent lower than the March quarter 2019. 

3 CASM, adjusted was 4.1 percent higher than the March quarter 2019 on 36 percent less capacity.  Expenseperformance was driven by a $923 million, or 47 percent reduction in fuel expense versus the March quarter 2019,a 38 percent reduction in maintenance expense and lower volume- and revenue-related expenses.  Salaries and related costs and profit sharing of $2.2 billion were down 25 percent compared to the March quarter 2019.   Fuel efficiency (see Note A) improved 12 percent in the March quarter versus the same period in 2019, with nearly half of the improvement a result of our fleet renewal efforts.  The rest is driven by factors that we expect to be temporary including reduced air congestion and lower load factors. 

Compared to the March quarter 2019, our total adjusted operating expense was down 33 percent versus our initial guide of down 35 to 40 percent.  Higher fuel expense drove a nearly $100 million variance compared to our projections in January.  Adjusted fuel price of $1.91 per gallon was up 33 percent for the quarter compared to the December quarter 2020 and above initial expectations on higher than expected market prices and losses at the refinery equivalent to 23¢ per gallon.  Non-fuel expenses were higher than projected due to employee-related COVID prevention expenses, including vaccines and testing, and recovery-related costs

Non-operating expense for the March quarter was up $43 million compared to the March quarter 2019, driven primarily by higher interest expense, partially offset by a gain on our Wheels Up investment.

During the March quarter we have reclassified certain amounts which were previously allocated to regional carrier expense to their natural line items within operating expense.  These reclassifications better reflect the nature of these expenses and how management views them.  This allocation was approximately $900 million in 2020, including $325 million in the March quarter 2020, and $1.4 billion in 2019, including $355 million in the March quarter 2019.  The remaining amounts in the regional carrier expense represent payments to our regional carriers under capacity purchase agreements and the expenses of our wholly owned regional subsidiary, Endeavor Air, Inc.See Note C for a summary of this reallocation by operating expense line item.

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