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The Zacks Analyst Blog Highlights: Southwest Airlines, United Continental, JetBlue Airways, Ryanair and Delta Air

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For Immediate Release

Chicago, IL – May 24, 2018 – announces the list of stocks featured in the Analyst Blog. Every day the Zacks Equity Research analysts discuss the latest news and events impacting stocks and the financial markets. Stocks recently featured in the blog include Southwest Airlines Co. (LUV - Free Report) , United Continental Holdings, Inc. (UAL - Free Report) , JetBlue Airways Corp. (JBLU - Free Report) , Ryanair Holdings plc (RYAAY - Free Report) and Delta Air Lines, Inc. (DAL - Free Report) .

Here are highlights from Wednesday’s Analyst Blog:

Airline Stock Roundup: LUV Ups Dividend, & More

Over the past five trading days, there have been quite a few updates in the airline space. Low-cost carrier Southwest Airlines Co. grabbed headlines with an announcement of hike in its quarterly dividend and approval of a new buyback plan.

Southwest Airlines’ investor-friendly updates apart, the past week saw Airlines for America (‘A4A’) — the largest airline trade association in the United States — unveiling a bullish projection for the upcoming summer season (Jun 1-Aug 31). The association expects the season will be the busiest one for U.S. carriers in terms of air travel.

United Continental Holdings, Inc. also featured in the headlines as the chief financial officer (CFO) of its subsidiary — United Airlines — decided to step down from his position.. Meanwhile, JetBlue Airways Corp. announced the appointment of a new chief operating officer (COO).

On the earnings front, European low-cost carrier Ryanair Holdings plc reported modest results in fiscal 2018 (ended Mar 31, 2018) and issued a cautious outlook for fiscal 2019.

Recap of the Past Week’s Most Important Stories

1. Southwest Airlines has rewarded shareholders with 28% dividend hike and a new share repurchase authorization worth $2 billion on the back of impressive results and a strong cash flow, arising from huge savings on account of the U.S. tax reform (Read more: Southwest Shares Up on Dividend Hike & New Buyback Program).

2. United Airlines appointed Gerry Laderman as the acting CFO, following the resignation of Andrew Levy. Levy joined United Airlines in August 2016. (Read more: United Continental Unit CFO Andrew Levy Calls it Quits:).

3. Delta Air Lines, Inc. announced a new route from New York. The carrier will begin non-stop service connecting New York-JFK with Orange County, CA from Oct 15, 2018 onward. Markedly, this new route adds to the existing 10 daily non-stop flights between JFK and Los Angeles (Read more: Delta to Expand in New York With Flights to Orange County).

Delta carries a Zacks Rank #3 (Hold). You can see  the complete list of today’s Zacks #1 Rank (Strong Buy) stocks here.

4 In a bid to improve its efficiency and drive long-term growth, low-cost carrier JetBlue Airways appointed Joanna Geraghty as its president and COO. The company intends to announce other management changes in the coming days, with the same objective.

Geraghty, who joined JetBlue in 2005, will oversee the day-to-day airline operations of the carrier and will strive to improve its customer service, apart from efficient cost management among other things. She will also supervise JetBlue’s commercial team. Prior to being appointed as the COO, Geraghty was serving as the carrier’s executive vice president, customer experience.

5. According to a projection by A4A, companies in the airline space will make hay in the upcoming summer season. Per the forecast, approximately 246.1 million passengers (2.68 million fliers per day) will be transported by U.S. airlines this summer, up 3.7% from the 2016 levels.

In fact, to meet the surge in travel demand, the U.S. carriers are increasing the number of available seats by 116,000 per day. Also, with the U.S. economy improving and consumer confidence remaining strong, more Americans are taking vacations.

Further, declining air fares in addition to a much-improved job market and rising disposable income have provided added incentive for consumers to opt for air travel. Driven by the above reasons, the three-month period is likely to see 96,000 additional passengers taking to the skies per day on various U.S. carriers.

6. Ryanair Holdings reported financial and operating numbers with net profit for fiscal 2018 up 10% year over year at €1,450 million despite a 3% decline in average airfares. The top line expanded 8% to €7,151 million on the back of a 9% rise in traffic to 130 million. Meanwhile, lower costs aided the bottom line. Moreover, load factor came in at 95%.

The carrier also issued an outlook for fiscal 2019, which was “on the pessimistic side of cautious” with oil prices rising. Unit costs are projected to increase by 9%. Average fares are expected to be flat in fiscal 2019. Traffic is anticipated to grow by 9%, with load factor remaining flat. The carrier remains concerned about a Brexit-related impact.

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