Delta earnings outlook weaker than Wall Street forecast

By Rajesh Kumar Singh

CHICAGO (Reuters) -Delta Air Lines on Thursday forecast lower profits in the current quarter than analysts had expected, with the carrier citing discounting pressure in the low end of the market.

The Atlanta-based carrier also reported a hit to transatlantic bookings as travelers are avoiding Paris due to the Olympic Games this summer.

Delta Air shares fell nearly 8% to $43.30 in premarket trading, while rivals United Airlines and American Airlines were down 4% each.

Domestic peer Southwest Airlines was also down 3% before the bell on Thursday.

Delta forecast an adjusted profit of $1.70-$2.00 per share in the quarter through September compared with analysts expectations of $2.05 per share, according to LSEG data.

Airlines are enjoying a summer travel boom, with more than 3 million people passing through U.S. airport security checkpoints in a single day on July 7.

The boom has failed to lift earnings at most of the U.S. carriers as excess industry capacity has undermined pricing power. Major airlines have scheduled about 6% more seats in the domestic market this month than a year ago, data from consultancy Cirium shows.

It is having a dampening effect on airline fares. Average round-trip ticket price for a U.S. domestic flight was $543 in May, down 1% month-on-month and 3% lower from a year ago, according to data from Airlines Reporting Corporation (ARC).

American and Southwest Airlines have cut their revenue forecast in the second quarter, citing discounting pressure. In May, American’s CEO Robert Isom said the domestic supply and demand imbalance had led to more discounting activity than a year ago.

While a shortage of planes due to production and engine issues was expected to drive up airfares, industry officials and analysts say a rush among airlines to capitalize on travel demand has caused overcapacity. The impact is more telling on ticket prices for main cabins.

Delta’s revenue from main cabins, which generate about 49% of its passenger revenue, was flat in the June quarter. In contrast, revenue from premium cabins was up 10% year-on-year.

Many of the domestic carriers are now reworking their networks and cutting capacity to protect their pricing power.

Delta expects its annual seat capacity growth to be 5%-6% in the third quarter, compared with an 8% growth in the second quarter. The moderation in capacity growth, however, is estimated to drive up its non-fuel operating costs by 1%-2% year-on-year.

The airline said its revenue suffered in the June quarter due to the upcoming Olympic Games in Paris. Analysts and industry officials expect the impact to persist in the current quarter as high costs and safety worries are discouraging many international travelers from visiting the French capital.

Last week, Air France-KLM warned of a 160 million to 180 million euros ($173 million to $194.81 million) hit to its unit revenues between June and August, saying international markets were avoiding Paris.

Delta expects to post an operating margin of 11%-13% in the third quarter, with a 2%-4% year-on-year increase in revenue.

Its reported an adjusted profit of $2.36 a share for the second quarter, in line with LSEG’s analysts expectations. The company reaffirmed its forecast for a profit of $6 to $7 per share in 2024 with a free cash flow of $3 billion-$4 billion.

($1 = 0.9240 euros)

(Reporting by Rajesh Kumar Singh; additional reporting by Shivansh Tiwary; Editing by David Gregorio and Shounak Dasgupta)

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