Southwest Airlines, United Airlines and Continental Airlines Report Earnings


On the first of a three-day onslaught of earnings that can only be described as “earnings hell,” Southwest, Continental, and United Airlines all reported their second quarter numbers today.

The short and sweet?

While Southwest Airlines reported a profit for the first time in three quarters, the airline’s guidance for the third quarter was not very rosy. So much so that the airline said it could not guarantee a profit for the third quarter. The airline posted a profit of $54 million or $0.07 for the quarter. This represented a 51% decline in profits over last year’s $121 million.

Operating income at the airline declined by 40%, to only $123 million.

Based on weak travel demand and fuel price volatility, we cannot predict a profitable third quarter,” said Gary Kelly, Southwest chairman, president and CEO.

United Airlines also posted a “profit” — but don’t let those headlines fool you. The airline only posted a “profit” as a result of one-time items and fuel hedge gains. Repeat after me: The airline did not post a real honest-to-God profit.

Excluding all the accounting handiwork, the airline lost $323 million or $2.23 for the quarter. This was, however, better than what the analyst consensus had been for the airline. Analysts had forecast the airline would post a loss of $2.61.

As for Continental, the airline posted a loss of $213 million, or $1.72 a share. Excluding special items, the airline posted a loss of $169 million or $1.36.

Continental posted a $154 million operating loss, which was 116% worse than the second quarter of 2008.

Those are the basics folks. Not exactly the kind of news that makes you want to jump up and down. Much less buy airline stocks. Because as we all know — if the airlines can’t make money in the second quarter — we don’t even want to see what’s coming next in the third and fourth quarters.

Someone noted to me in an email this morning,

“Holly, just looking over the Continental numbers. You know I was thinking about what you wrote this week in PlaneBusiness Banter concerning why Larry [Kellner] would choose to leave the airline right now, and the strength of the management team at Continental. I think the reason Larry has decided to leave this industry is obvious when you look at these results and realize that this airline clearly has one of the best management teams around. But even as good as they are — the airline is STILL not profitable. I can see Larry’s point.

Larry, get out of this industry, go make some money and have a good time doing it.”

I’m afraid our PBB subscriber speaks the ugly truth.