U.S. carriers gave strong earnings forecasts for the year Thursday despite economic worries after buoyant demand for air travel during the crucial holiday season helped lift quarterly results.
Major airlines are trying to cash in on a travel boom since the pandemic eased its grip on the world, making the industry one of the few bright spots against the backdrop of runaway inflation, rising interest rates and a looming recession.
The sector has also been able to raise prices as consumers continue to spend on leisure despite signs of a slowdown, while production problems at planemakers help keep capacity in check. China's reopening is also expected to add to the upbeat mood.
"The airline industry will benefit as travel reopens, but we anticipate more outbound travel from China to the West than from the West to China as Chinese consumers take their turn at 'revenge travel,'" Cowen analyst Helane Becker said in a note.
On Thursday, American Airlines, JetBlue Airways Corp and Alaska Air Group all forecast better-than-expected earnings for the full year.
"As we kick off 2023, we're pleased to see the demand environment remain solid into the seasonally trough period of the year," said Joanna Geraghty, JetBlue president and chief operating officer.
The company's Northeast Alliance partner American Airlines forecast an adjusted profit of $2.50 to $3.50 per share for 2023, handily beating analyst expectations of $1.77, according to Refinitiv data. Its shares were up 2.3% before the bell.
The resilient demand has allowed Fort Worth, Texas-based American to focus on fixing its debt-laden balance sheet. It has outlined a goal of paying down $15 billion of total debt by 2025-end.
"As we turn our attention to 2023, we will continue to prioritize reliability, profitability and debt reduction," American Airlines Chief Executive Robert Isom said.
Earlier this month, rival carriers United Airlines and Delta Air Lines reported bigger-than-expected quarterly earnings and gave a bullish outlook amid recessionary fears.
Both American Airlines and JetBlue posted fourth-quarter earnings that beat estimates on Thursday.
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