United Airlines Holdings Inc’s (UAL - Free Report) fourth-quarter 2019 earnings (excluding 14 cents from non-recurring items) of $2.67 per share surpassed the Zacks Consensus Estimate of $2.64. Moreover, the bottom line improved 10.8% year over year, mainly on lower fuel costs.
Operating revenues of $10,888 million increased 3.8% year over year and also marginally beat the Zacks Consensus Estimate of $10,886.2 million. Higher passenger revenues drove the top line.
Passenger revenues, accounting for bulk (91.2%) of the top line, rose 3.9% year over year. However, cargo revenues representing 2.9% of the top line declined 5.4%. Revenues from other sources contributed to the remainder.
Consolidated passenger revenue per available seat mile (PRASM: a key measure of unit revenues) inched up 0.8% year over year to 13.98 cents. Total revenue per available seat mile increased 0.7% year over year to 15.33 cents. On a consolidated basis, average yield per revenue passenger mile ascended 1% from the year-ago quarter.
During the quarter under review, consolidated airline traffic, measured in revenue passenger miles, climbed 2.9% year over year. Capacity (or available seat miles) also expanded 3.1%. Consolidated load factor (percentage of seat occupancy) deteriorated 20 basis points to 82.5% as capacity expansion outweighed traffic growth. Meanwhile, average fuel price per gallon (on a consolidated basis) decreased 8.7% year over year to $2.1.
Total adjusted operating expenses increased 5.9% year over year to $7,477 million in the reported quarter. Consolidated unit cost or cost per available seat mile (CASM) excluding fuel, third-party business expenses, profit sharing and special charges was up 2.7% year over year. However, total unit costs slipped 1.3% year over year.
United Airlines exited the fourth quarter with cash and cash equivalents of $2,762 million compared with $1,694 million at 2018 end. Long-term debt at the end of the reported quarter was $13,145 million compared with $12,215 million at December 2018 end. Furthermore, the carrier bought back shares worth $216 million in the October-December period at an average price of $88.95 per share. During 2019 it repurchased shares worth $1.6 billion.
The company’s strong 2019 performance despite headwinds, such as the prolonged MAX groundings, government shutdown and poor weather conditions, can be gauged from the fact that it achieved its 2020 adjusted earnings per share target of $11-$13 in 2019 itself. For 2019, the company’s earnings of $12.05 per share beat the Zacks Consensus Estimate of $12.04. Total revenues of $43.26 billion also marginally outpaced the Zacks Consensus Estimate of $43.25 billion. While the bottom line surged 32% year over year, the top line improved 4.7%.
For the first quarter of 2020, United Airlines anticipates PRASM to either remain flat year over year or increase up to 2%. Average fuel price per gallon is estimated in the range of $2.04-$2.14. Additionally, effective income tax rate is projected between 22% and 24%. The company’s earnings per share guidance for the first quarter is encouraging. Adjusted earnings per share are expected between 75 cents and $1.25. The mid-point, $1, of the guided range lies above the Zacks Consensus Estimate of 83 cents.
Adjusted earnings per share are reiterated between $11 and $13. The mid-point, $12, of the guided range falls below the Zacks Consensus Estimate of $12.04. Capital expenditures are predicted to be $7 billion in 2020. Moreover, effective income tax rate is estimated in the range of 22-24%.
United Airlines carries a Zacks Rank #3 (Hold). You can see the complete list of today’s Zacks #1 Rank (Strong Buy) stocks here.
Investors interested in the Zacks Airline industry are keenly awaiting fourth-quarter 2019 earnings reports from key players like Southwest Airlines (LUV - Free Report) , Alaska Air Group (ALK - Free Report) and JetBlue Airways Corporation (JBLU - Free Report) . While Southwest and JetBlue will release financial results on Jan 23, Alaska Air Group will report earnings numbers on Jan 28.
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