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Delta Air Lines today reported financial results for the March quarter 2018. Highlights of those results, including both GAAP and adjusted metrics, are below and incorporated here.

Adjusted pre-tax income for the March 2018 quarter was $676 million, a $104 million decrease from the March 2017 quarter, as record revenues were offset by higher fuel prices and other increased costs including a $44 million impact from severe winter weather.

“The Delta people delivered a strong March quarter, and our record revenue was a direct result of the great service and operational reliability they provided for our customers. It’s an honor to recognize their hard work with $183 million toward our 2018 profit sharing,” said Ed Bastian, Delta’s chief executive officer. “We have confidence in our plan to grow earnings in 2018 through top-line growth, improving our cost trajectory, and leveraging our international partnerships.”

Earnings graphic

Revenue Environment

Delta’s adjusted operating revenue of $9.8 billion for the March quarter improved 8 percent, or $715  million versus the prior year. This revenue result marks a March quarter record for the company, and was driven by improvements across Delta’s business, including a 23 percent increase in cargo revenue and a $78 million increase in total loyalty revenue. Delta’s Branded Fares initiative drove $421 million in premium up-sell revenue in the period, a 23 percent increase from the prior year.

Total unit revenues excluding refinery sales (TRASM) increased 5.0 percent during the period, with foreign currency contributing just over 0.5 points of benefit. This marks the fourth consecutive quarter of year-over-year growth, with all geographic regions delivering positive results.

“We are seeing Delta’s best revenue momentum since 2014, with positive domestic unit revenues, improvements in all our international entities, strong demand for corporate travel and double-digit increases in our loyalty revenues,” said Glen Hauenstein, Delta’s president. “With our solid pipeline of commercial initiatives, delivered with industry-leading Delta service, we expect to maintain this momentum and deliver total revenue growth of 4 to 6 percent for the full year.”

March 2018 Earnings - Table 1

June 2018 Quarter Guidance

For the June quarter, Delta expects solid top-line growth and an improving cost trajectory will mitigate the impact of higher fuel prices. The company will also benefit from a reduction in its book tax rate.

March 2018 Earnings - Table 2

Cost Performance

Total adjusted operating expenses for the March quarter increased $817 million, driven by higher fuel prices, investments in employee wages and profit sharing, and higher depreciation expense.

Adjusted fuel expense increased $317 million, or 20 percent relative to March quarter 2017, as the year- over-year increase in market fuel prices was tempered by the lapping of prior year hedge losses and improved fuel efficiency. Delta’s adjusted fuel price per gallon for the March quarter was $2.01, which includes $0.05 of benefit from the refinery.

CASM-Ex increased 3.9 percent for the March 2018 quarter compared to the prior year period driven by April 2017 wage increases and accelerated depreciation due to aircraft retirements. Unit costs were further pressured by approximately 1 point from the impact of severe weather and foreign exchange. Delta expects this period will mark the highest non-fuel expense growth for the year.

“We expect unit cost growth of 1 to 3 percent in the June quarter, as we lap prior year investments in our people and our business,” said Paul Jacobson, Delta’s chief financial officer. “As we move through depreciation pressure from our fleet retirements and gain benefits from our upgauging and One Delta initiatives later in the year, we are on track for our 0 to 2 percent full year unit cost target.”

Adjusted non-operating expense was flat year-on-year for the March quarter as a $62 million improvement in pension expense was offset by higher interest costs and the seasonality of joint venture partner earnings. The company expects 2018 full-year adjusted non-operating expense to be $200-250 million lower than 2017, due to pension expense savings.

Tax expense declined $117 million for the March quarter, primarily due to the reduction in Delta’s book tax rate from 34 percent to 23 percent.

Cash Flow and Shareholder Returns

Delta generated $1.3 billion of operating cash flow, as the seasonal build of cash was partially offset by the $1.1 billion profit sharing payment to employees and a $500 million voluntary pension contribution in the March quarter, completing funding for the full year. Delta generated $173 million of free cash flow during the quarter, after the investment of $1.2 billion into the business primarily for aircraft purchases and improvements.

For the March quarter, Delta returned $542 million to shareholders, comprised of $325 million of share repurchases and $217 million in dividends.

Strategic Highlights

In the March quarter, Delta achieved a number of milestones across its five key strategic pillars.

Culture and People

  • Named one of Fortune magazine's Most Admired Companies for the fifth consecutive year.
  • Named one of the 2018 Fortune "100 Best Companies to Work For" for a second straight year.

Operational Reliability

  • Delivered 52 days of zero mainline cancellations and 19 days of zero system cancellations, up 9 days from the March quarter 2017.
  • Achieved mainline on-time performance (A0) of 74.2% for the March quarter, up from 73.5% in the prior year.

Network and Partnerships

  • Increased efficiency through upgauging strategy with domestic seat capacity increasing 3.4% on 0.9% higher departures in the March quarter. As part of its refleeting, Delta added 43 more Boeing 737-900s and Airbus A321s into service, contributing to the 105 additional AVOD equipped aircraft across the fleet year-over-year.
  • Received final approvals from regulatory authorities for new joint venture partnership with Korean Air, offering one of the most comprehensive route networks in the trans-Pacific market.

Customer Experience and Loyalty

  • Experienced double-digit growth in co-brand spend, helping drive $85 million of incremental value from Delta’s American Express agreement in the March quarter. New card acquisitions set a record for the March quarter, following a record 2017 with over 1 million new card acquisitions.
  • Introduced more seamless check-in experience at 32 Delta Sky Clubs with roll-out of ambassador handheld devices. Delta installed CLEAR check-in technology in 50 Delta Sky Clubs, further streamlining the check-in process for CLEAR members.

Investment Grade Balance Sheet

  • Made a $500 million voluntary contribution to the pension plan and ended the quarter with an unfunded liability of $6.3 billion, a $642 million reduction from the end of 2017.

Changes to Accounting Standards

On January 1, Delta adopted several new accounting standards, including the new revenue recognition standard which drove 0.5 points of margin and $0.05 per share of pressure in the March quarter. This represents substantially all the margin and earnings impact related to new accounting standards for 2018.

The prior periods presented here have been recast to reflect adoption of these new standards. In addition, Delta made the following changes to its income statement:

  • Delta is no longer disaggregating passenger revenue by mainline and regional carriers.
  • Ancillary business expenses have been consolidated into a single operating expense line item.
  • Regional carriers fuel expense is now reported within aircraft fuel and related taxes instead of within regional carrier expense.

March Quarter Results

Special items for the quarter consist primarily of mark-to-market adjustments on refinery fuel hedges and unrealized gains/losses on investments.

March 2018 Earnings - Table 3

About Delta

Delta Air Lines serves more than 180 million customers each year. In 2018, Delta was named to Fortune’s top 50 Most Admired Companies in addition to being named the most admired airline for the seventh time in eight years. Additionally, Delta has ranked No.1 in the Business Travel News Annual Airline survey for an unprecedented seven consecutive years. With an industry-leading global network, Delta and the Delta Connection carriers offer service to 312 destinations in 55 countries on six continents. Headquartered in Atlanta, Delta employs more than 80,000 employees worldwide and operates a mainline fleet of more than 800 aircraft. The airline is a founding member of the SkyTeam global alliance and participates in the industry’s leading transatlantic joint venture with Air France-KLM and Alitalia as well as a joint venture with Virgin Atlantic. Including its worldwide alliance partners, Delta offers customers more than 15,000 daily flights, with key hubs and markets including Amsterdam, Atlanta, Boston, Detroit, Los Angeles, Mexico City, Minneapolis/St. Paul, New York-JFK and LaGuardia, London-Heathrow, Paris-Charles de Gaulle, Salt Lake City, São Paulo, Seattle, Seoul, and Tokyo-Narita. Delta has invested billions of dollars in airport facilities, global products and services, and technology to enhance the customer experience in the air and on the ground. Additional information is available on the Delta News Hub, as well as delta.com, Twitter @DeltaNewsHub, Google.com/+Delta, and Facebook.com/delta.

 

Forward Looking Statements

Statements in this press release that are not historical facts, including statements regarding our estimates, expectations, beliefs, intentions, projections or strategies for the future, may be "forward-looking statements" as defined in the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. All forward-looking statements involve a number of risks and uncertainties that could cause actual results to differ materially from the estimates, expectations, beliefs, intentions, projections and strategies reflected in or suggested by the forward-looking statements.  These risks and uncertainties include, but are not limited to, the cost of aircraft fuel; the impact of fuel hedging activity including rebalancing our hedge portfolio, recording mark-to-market adjustments or posting collateral in connection with our fuel hedge contracts; the availability of aircraft fuel; the performance of our significant investments in airlines in other parts  of the world; the possible effects of accidents involving our aircraft; breaches or security lapses in our information technology systems or those of our vendors or service providers; disruptions in our information technology infrastructure; our dependence on technology in our operations; the restrictions that financial covenants in our financing agreements could have on our financial and business operations; labor issues; the effects of weather, natural disasters and seasonality on our business; the effects of an extended disruption in services provided by third party regional carriers; failure or inability of insurance to cover a significant liability at Monroe’s Trainer refinery; the impact of environmental regulation on the Trainer refinery, including costs related to renewable fuel standard regulations; our ability to retain senior management and key employees; damage to our reputation and brand if we are exposed to significant adverse publicity through social media; the effects of terrorist attacks or geopolitical conflict; competitive conditions in the airline industry; interruptions or disruptions in service at major airports at which we operate; the effects of extensive government regulation on our business; the sensitivity of the airline industry to prolonged periods of stagnant or weak economic conditions; uncertainty in economic conditions and regulatory environment in the United Kingdom related to the likely exit of the United Kingdom from the European Union; and the effects of the rapid spread of contagious illnesses.

Additional information concerning risks and uncertainties that could cause differences between actual results and forward-looking statements is contained in our Securities and Exchange Commission filings, including our Annual Report on Form 10-K for the fiscal year ended Dec. 31, 2017 and our Form 10-Q for the period ended Mar. 31, 2018. Caution should be taken not to place undue reliance on our forward-looking statements, which represent our views only as of Apr. 12, 2018, and which we have no current intention to update.

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