Delta nearly earns $1 billion in fourth quarter

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Riding the wave of low fuel costs, Delta reported net income of $980 million for the fourth quarter. The momentum came despite a 2% year-over-year decline in operating revenue, which the carrier attributed to $160 million in foreign currency pressures.

In total for 2015, the airline reported net income of $4.5 billion, up from $659 million a year earlier. The fourth-quarter net income of nearly $1 billion came after a net loss of $712 million in the fourth quarter of 2014, when Delta wrote down more than $1 billion in fuel hedges.

Delta spent $726 million less on fuel in the most recent fourth quarter, a decrease of 30%. Operating revenue was $9.5 billion, a decrease of $150 million compared with last year and $100 million shy of analysts’ expectations.

"As we look ahead to 2016, we have a significant opportunity to improve our performance even further,” CEO Richard Anderson said Tuesday, noting continuing drops in fuel prices as well as the airline’s confidence about demand.

Delta expects fuel to drop from $1.85 per gallon during the fourth quarter to between $1.20 and $1.25 per gallon this quarter.

The airline’s earnings Tuesday portends to what analysts expect will be a year of record profits in the U.S. airline industry. United and Southwest will announce earnings on Thursday, followed by American next week.

Delta said it plans to be disciplined in expansion in 2016 — growing capacity by between just 0% and 2% — in order to bolster price and capture the savings offered by cheap jet fuel.

The carrier’s capacity was flat during the fourth quarter compared to a year earlier, while the number of miles flown by passengers grew by 3%.

Ticket prices, measured on a per-mile basis, dropped 4%.

Delta’s earnings per share were $1.18 in the fourth quarter, a penny shy of analyst expectations. Delta stock closed at $45.96 Tuesday, nearly level with its opening of $45.80. 

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