Gary Chase Note On Airlines Today: It’s Been A Tiring Airline Earnings Season


The headline on Gary Chase’s research wrap-up piece today was entitled, “Thoughts After A Tiring Airline Earnings Season.”

That is exactly how I feel today, after the onslaught of reports this week. Particularly yesterday’s almost non-stop roll out of reports.

Chase, airline analyst with Barclays, commented today, “Mercifully, airline earnings season is over.”

Not quite. We still have a number of regional airlines to hear from. Then there are all the international carriers who report on a very different schedule. But as far as the big guns in the U.S. are concerned, yes, the noisy din that was created from a slew of very “noisy” earnings reports this quarter has now, finally, ended.

I’m still not sure which airlines we are going to take a closer look at in this week’s issue of PBB, because we had too many report in during the week. The issue would simply be too unwieldy in terms of size if we were to go into our usual detail on all eight. But after finishing up the last earnings transcript reading this morning, I’ll pick four for this week, and the rest will get their look-see next week.

But let’s get away from the specifics for a minute and look, as Gary did today, at the overall sense we got from listening to the calls over the last two weeks.

I’d sum it up by saying this: there is a lot of fear out there concerning demand. The immediate revenue landscape looks frightening and it’s not clear where the revenue versus demand level is going to settle. And god forbid if the price of oil starts to move up again.

As Gary said in his note this morning,

“We have entered the stage of the airline story where the thesis gets tested. We all know it takes a lot of revenue erosion to offset the benefits the industry will reap from extraordinary capacity reductions and breathtaking declines in fuel (now materially more than 9/11). However, now comes the hard part. The part where we actually have to observe the revenue declines rather than analyze sensitivities in our models. With revenue fading quickly, as it always does, faith is suddenly hard to come by.

The near-term isn’t going to be easy, in our view. The next potential catalysts will likely come on the revenue front and as CAL previewed yesterday, the RASM comps are going to be negative. In fact, our largely unchanged forecasts contemplate negative RASM comps in every single month of the year, with the exception of November. We currently believe 1Q will see the toughest comparisons.”

Translation? If you thought the fourth quarter numbers looked bad — just wait until mid-April when the first quarter numbers roll out.

However, as far as we can tell — most analysts continue to hold onto the belief that the benefits that come from the drop in the price of oil will more than compensate for whatever drop in demand the airlines continue to feel.

One PlaneBusiness Banter subscriber wrote me this week, “I think these guys on Wall Street are not connected to the real world. In your last issue in December you asked your readers to tell you how they felt about 2009. And you said yourself that you were surprised at the overall level of negativity readers expressed. I wasn’t. And I think your readers were, and are, closer to the mark than these guys who make their living transposing spreadsheets and getting lost in the numbers are.”

Thoughts? I think it’s time we open this up to PlaneBuzz readers for their take. Is 2009 still going to be the blockbuster earnings year for the airline industry that every Wall Street analyst on the planet said was going to be the case?

As always, you can comment here on Buzz — or you can send your notes to me directly.