Wall Street looked past Delta Air Lines Inc.’s first quarter in the black during the pandemic, focusing instead on ongoing concerns about the broader industry and fears of steeper capacity declines for the air carrier.
Delta Air DAL, -1.57% shares fell nearly 2% on Wednesday, reversing course from earlier, when the airline reported a surprise GAAP profit for its second quarter and an adjusted quarterly loss that was well below analyst expectations.
It was Delta’s first profitable quarter since the October-December 2019 period. Delta and carriers the world over have weathered steep capacity cuts and losses since early 2020 as travel restrictions were put in place to curb the spread of COVID-19.
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A resurgence in leisure travel has helped, but airlines are still far from pre-pandemic profit and sales as some of their businesses, including business travel, are still no where near usual levels.
Delta on Wednesday, however, highlighted its uptick in U.S. business travel, calling out Boston and New York City among the most improved for corporate travel.
The companies also face increased costs, including labor and fuel. In the U.S., major airlines received about $50 billion in a series of government bailouts and grants during the pandemic, mostly so they could make payroll.
For the third quarter, Delta said it sees capacity down between 28% to 30% as compared with third quarter 2019, and revenue down between 30% and 35%.
Delta’s results “look very encouraging,” Citi analyst Stephen Trent said in a note Wednesday. “Overall, better than expected revenue and somewhat tamer fuel costs are offsetting” higher costs.
Trent has a buy rating on Delta shares and in a separate note Wednesday upgraded American Airlines Group Inc. shares to neutral.
Domestic and Latin America travel remained the relative sources of strength for Delta, Jefferies analyst Sheila Kahyaoglu said in her note.
Revenue estimates for the third quarter were better than Jefferies’ expectations, but capacity declines for the quarter were worse than the 25% decline that the firm expected, she said.
Analyst Helane Becker at Cowen said in her note that the better-than-expected results were “driven by improved ticket yields, increased cargo demand, and better than expected ancillary revenue production.”
Becker has the equivalent of a hold rating on Delta shares.
Shares of Delta have gained 1.4% this year, compared with an advance of about 17% for the S&P 500 index. SPX, +0.12%