Delta Posts Q3 Loss, COVID-19 Still Grounding Demand

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Delta Airlines (NYSE: DAL)  reported another quarterly loss, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to pummel demand for flights. The result has been prompting major airlines to dismiss thousands of workers.

During the third quarter, Delta lost almost $5.4 billion on a net basis, or $6.9 billion pre-taxes. This is compared to a profit of over $1 billion in the comparable year-ago period. It highlights what CEO Ed Bastian called “the magnitude” of the COVID-19 pandemic on the carrier’s business.

Here are the main takeaways from the report, compared to consensus estimates compiled by Bloomberg:

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  • Total operating revenue: $3.1 billion vs. $3.1 billion expected
  • Adjusted loss per share: $3.30 vs. $2.97 expected
  • Adjusted pre-tax loss: $2.6 billion
  • Adjusted net income loss: $2.09 billion vs. $1.87 billion expected

Delta increased its adjusted revenue to $2.6 billion during the third quarter. This is up from $1.47 billion in the second quarter. The daily average cash burn fell to $24 million and was as low as $18 million in September.

In general, airlines have scaled back flight schedules significantly and laid-off workers to cope with the impact the coronavirus pandemic is having on travel. Bastian said, “The actions we are taking now to take care of our people, simplify our fleet, improve the customer experience, and strengthen our brand will allow Delta to accelerate into a post-COVID recovery.”

He added, “We have been encouraged as more customers travel and we are seeing a path of progressive improvement in our revenues, financial results, and daily cash burn.”

Even still, airline’s revenue is down 79% year-over-year and passenger capacity is down 63%. Delta says it ended the quarter with $21.6 billion in liquidity and believes it is laying a “Foundation for Recovery”.

Delta cut its expenses from salaries and benefits by 32% percent. Around 18,000 employees took early retirement packages and thousands more opted for voluntary unpaid leaves of absence and work hour reductions.

Those reductions allowed Delta to avoid layoffs through the end of the year. Conversely, other airlines like United (NASDAQ: UAL) and American (NASDAQ: AAL) have furloughed more than 32,000 employees.

Turbulence still ahead

Recovery for the airline industry is still moving slower than first expected when Congress passed the $2.4 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act last March. The legislation included billions of dollars for the airlines through the Payroll Support Program. Airlines are now lobbying for an additional $20 billion PSP extension from Congress as the pandemic continues to keep travel to a minimum.

There is improving data showing leisure and family-related travel is recovering and driving passenger volumes higher.

TSA reported the number of people going through security at the nation’s airports, as of last week, was down 65% year over year. That’s an improvement over June when passenger volume was off by about 80%. But, “Business traffic is down 90% – 95%,” Cowen Equity Research Analyst Helane Becker says. “And without their return, we believe it will be difficult to get back to cash flow breakeven before 2H21.”

Delta president Glen Hauenstein acknowledged the obstacles airlines face ahead saying the demand may slowly build for two years. But Hauenstein says Delta is creating the foundation for, “sustainable future revenue growth.”

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