Southwest losses deeper than Wall Street’s dialed-down hopes, marring bright Q4 for airlines

Southwest Airlines Co. on Thursday reported deeper losses than Wall Street’s dimmer expectations predicted, marring an otherwise good reporting season for U.S. major air carriers.

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Southwest and American Airlines Group Inc. reported their fourth-quarter results earlier Thursday, with Southwest losing an adjusted 38 cents a share, compared with consensus adjusted losses of around 7 cents a share.

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Analysts focused on the slowdown in January and February bookings. In late December, Southwest canceled thousands of flights due to a winter storm that other airlines were able to manage. The airline also told Wall Street to expect another loss for the current quarter.

Southwest’s results “look a little light,” Stephen Trent with Citi said in a note Thursday.

Quarterly losses were not a surprise, but the softer current-quarter bookings “lead one to question whether last month’s operational disruptions may have temporarily dented customer perceptions,” Trent said.

The airline earlier this month warned of a hit between $725 million and $825 million; the final impact came at $800 million.

American Airlines topped Wall Street expectations and showed no surprises from its upbeat outlook earlier in January.

“Passenger revenue outperformed across all regions,” with the largest outperformer being Latin America, with revenue 47% above 2019, Jefferies analyst Sheila Kahyaoglu said in her note.

Earlier this month, United Airlines Holdings Inc. reported fourth-quarter results that analysts hailed as “impressive.” Delta, the first major U.S. carrier to report, also earned accolades.

The two earlier reports stoked hope that the U.S. airlines will continue to reap the benefits of pent-up demand for flying, and see a recovery in business travel.

A note at the time from Morgan Stanley analyst Ravi Shanker called 2023 a possible “Goldilocks year,” concerns about a recession notwithstanding, after the massive disruptions caused by the pandemic and the ripple effects that dominated 2022.

The U.S. Global Jets ETF has lost about 2% in the past 12 months, compared with losses of about 8% for the S&P 500 index.

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