The first airline to release first-quarter earnings could be the worst. Delta Air Lines ( DAL) Wednesday releases results before the start of trading, leading the parade of airline earnings to come over the next two weeks. Some of Delta's comments, especially with regard to fuel costs, ticket prices and low-cost competition, will be a harbinger of things to come at other carriers. But the carrier's company-specific issues -- namely deep losses, its falling credit rating and difficult contract negotiations with pilots -- will take center stage. Wall Street expects the company to lose $2.95 a share in the first quarter, a number that has been on the rise since March 15, when
Delta first warned that it would lose $400 million, worse than an earlier forecast of a $300 million to $350 million loss. At the time of the warning, analysts expected Delta to lose $2.51 a share, and in the month since, investors have punished the stock, dropping it 8.1%. As a result, much of the bad news is priced in and few analysts expect Delta's results to surprise. With CEO Gerald Grinstein negotiating pay cuts with pilots and working on a plan to overhaul Delta's business, due sometime in June, investors will be more interested in Delta's future than its quarterly results.