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Delta ekes out small 4Q profit despite Sandy

Published January 22, 2013 11:08 pm

Earnings • Carrier will continue to trim flight capacity to prop up fares.
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Delta Air Lines on Tuesday also said it had managed to post a small profit in the fourth quarter despite a huge hit from Superstorm Sandy on the operations of the carrier and its fuel refinery.

Delta earned $7 million, or 1 cent per share, in the three months ending Dec. 31, but profits would have been higher if it weren't for special charges totaling $231 million, as well as a $100 million impact from Sandy. The storm that lashed the East Coast in late October forced Delta to cancel more than 20,000 flights and slowed operations at its new refinery near Philadelphia.

Minus the special items, Delta earned $238 million, or 28 cents per share. Earnings were in line with the consensus estimate of analysts surveyed by Thompson Reuters. A year earlier, the Atlanta-based carrier earned $425 million, or 50 cents per share.

Revenue totaled $8.6 billion in the last quarter of 2012, up 2 percent from $8.4 billion a year earlier. The figure matched analysts' expectations, Thompson Reuters said.

Investors appeared to like the results. Shares of Delta's stock closed at $14, up 39 cents, to their highest point since November 2010.

For the year, Delta's net income was $1 billion, or $1.19 a share, up from $854 million, or $1.01 a share, in 2011.

In announcing the financial results, the carrier also indicated that passengers will have fewer travel options in the first quarter of 2013. Delta, whose westernmost hub is at Salt Lake City International Airport, plans to cut capacity by 2 percent to 4 percent atop a 1.3 percent decrease in the fourth quarter of 2012. Most of the reduction will come from international routes. Capacity on those routes will be down 3 percent to 5 percent, with much of the decrease coming on trans-Atlantic runs. Domestic flying will be trimmed by 1 percent to 3 percent.

Delta spokesman Anthony Black said flights in and out of Salt Lake City would not be affected.

Cutting capacity will support Delta's fares because fewer seats will be available. The airline said revenue per available seat will be 4 percent to 6 percent higher in the first quarter of this year than in the same quarter of 2012.

"We enter 2013 as a stronger airline, with initiatives in place to build on our 2012 success," CEO Richard Anderson said during a conference call with analysts.

Delta will issue $63 million in profit sharing checks next month to eligible employees. The company has more than 80,000 employees, including 3,200 workers at its airport hub in Salt Lake City. Delta handed out $89 million a year ago.

During Tuesday's conference call, Delta President Ed Bastian said the airline's frequent-flier program will increasingly favor passengers who spend lots of money with the airline over people who simply accumulate miles.

Most airline loyalty programs are based on miles flown, not on expenditures. But Bastian said future changes probably would favor travelers who spend more. That's Delta's strongest hint yet that it may move the entire frequent-flier program further in that direction.

Last week, Delta announced that frequent fliers would need to spend a minimum amount of money to earn a higher frequent-flier status. Travelers prize that status because it moves them to the front of airport lines and lets them qualify for upgrades to first class.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

pbeebe@sltrib.com

Twitter: @sltribpaul —

Earnings report highlights

Minus the special items, Delta earned $238 million, or 28 cents per share

Domestic flight capacity will be trimmed 1 percent to 3 percent

Capacity cuts are not expected to affect flights in and out of Salt Lake City International Airport

Carrier's frequent-flier program will increasingly be based on amount spent, not miles flown