Delta Air Lines (DAL) - Get Report shares jumped higher in early trading Tuesday after CEO Ed Bastian said corporate travel demand held up firmly in the first quarter of this year, despite an historic cold snap and the lingering affects of the government shutdown.
Bastian told the JP Morgan Aviation, Transportation and Industrials conference in New York that the U.S.'s second-largest airline was on track to deliver on earlier earnings and revenue guidance for the March quarter, while reaffirming Delta's forecast of full year earnings of between $6 and $7 per share, compared to the Street consensus of $6.53 per share.
The group also said it sees first quarter revenue growth of between 4% and 6%, based on presentation materials posted in a filing to the Securities and Exchange Commission, adding that "overall demand remands healthy, led by corporate".
Delta Airline shares were marked 3.2% higher at the start of trading Tuesday and changing hands at $50.37 each, a move that trims the stock's three-month decline to around 12%.
Delta added that it plans "opportunistic" share repurchases in the current quarter, funded through a short-term loan to be repaid by the end of the year, and plans to return around $2.5 billion to shareholders across the whole of 2019.
Delta's first quarter outlook, which it revealed in early January after posting stronger-than-expected fourth quarter earnings, had disappointed investors.
Delta said it sees first quarter earnings of between 70 and 90 cents a share, however, and an adjusted total revenue per available seat mile, or TRASM, growth rate of 2%, both of which misses market estimates.
Bastian also said the U.S. government shutdown, the longest in history, will clip $25 million from Delta's revenues each month as Federal employees stay home.
American Airlines (AAL) - Get Report shares were also punished in early January, and have risen at only half the rate of the broader S&P 500 so far this year, after the biggest domestic carrier cuts its full year earnings guidance to a range of $4.40 to $4.60 a share, from a prior range of $4.60 to $5.00, as slumping jet fuel prices triggered a fare ware among rivals that hit the industry's bottom line.
Weaker business travel activity, linked to a slowing global economy, is also weighing on the sector, trimming expectations for TRASM, a key industry profit metric.
Delta cut its TRASM growth estimate earlier this month to around 3%, from a prior forecast of 3.5%, adding that " the pace of improvement in late December was more modest than anticipated."