American Airlines beats fourth-quarter profit expectations as higher fares buoy revenue

Earnings

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Employees of American Airlines help check in passengers at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport on January 11, 2023 in Arlington, Virginia.
Alex Wong | Getty Images

American Airlines‘ fourth-quarter profit beat analysts’ expectations as strong travel demand and high fares buoyed results during a turbulent holiday season.

Shares of American were up about 2% in premarket trading on Thursday.

Here’s how American Airlines performed in the fourth quarter compared with what Wall Street anticipated, based on an average of analysts’ estimates compiled by Refinitiv:

  • Adjusted earnings per share: $1.17 versus an expected $1.14
  • Total revenue: $13.19 billion versus expected $13.20 billion

For the three months ended Dec. 31, the company reported net income of $803 million, or $1.14 per share, unadjusted — a stark improvement from a loss of $931 million, or $1.44 per share, during the same period a year earlier.

Quarterly revenue of $13.19 billion was up 16.6% from the same period in 2019, before the pandemic stymied travel. American earlier this month raised its revenue and profit estimates for its fourth quarter.

American raked in that record fourth-quarter revenue despite operating 6.1% less capacity, suggesting flyers keep paying up for seats.

For the full year, American reported $127 million in net income. It was the first full-year profit for the carrier since 2019, CEO Robert Isom said in a message to employees Thursday morning.

The company paid an average of $3.50 per gallon of fuel in the fourth quarter, up 48% from last year. It expects that cost to come down to somewhere between $3.33 and $3.38 per gallon as it heads into its first quarter of 2023.

Based on those cost estimates and where demand is going, American said it expects capacity to be 8% to 10% higher than the first quarter of 2022 and projects that it will break even on earnings per share.

Airline executives at Delta and United were similarly upbeat about 2023 bookings despite concerns about layoffs at major U.S. companies and economic weakness.

American and other airlines have pointed to capacity constraints tied to aircraft shortages and the pilot shortage, particularly for regional airlines, factors that have kept airfare high.

Isom said during the company’s earnings call that mainline pilot constraints should ease this year but regional pilot shortfalls should last several more years. American said it plans to hire 2,000 pilots for its mainline operation this year.

The Fort Worth, Texas-based airline said its unit costs will likely be flat or down as much as 3% in the first quarter compared with a year earlier, and up as much as 5% for the full year over 2022.

The full-year forecast includes new labor contracts, though the carrier hasn’t yet reached preliminary agreements with pilots and flight attendants.

Of the biggest U.S. carriers, only Delta has a preliminary agreement with its aviators.

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