I wrote this week in PBB that the last week or so has been one where we’ve been focused on the regional sector. First, we saw again how poorly most of the regionals performed in the recent DOT Airline Consumer Travel Report. Particularly Comair, Atlantic Southeast and American Eagle.
Then we had the less than positive numbers reported by the regional airline that used to outperform all the other regionals — hands down. While SkyWest reported a profit for the fourth quarter last week — the future looks murky for the regional powerhouse in terms of growth, as Delta AIr Lines continues to pull back on its contract flying. Even, as we learned in the airline’s call, below contract minimums.
Top this off with Mesa’s share free fall last week, in which shares of the airline dropped to 4 cents a share — and Pinnacle suffered a crash involving its Colgan operation, and well, it was a week when the regionals were continually in the forefront, but not for very positive reasons.
Today the regional airline that has been consistently posting the strongest results in the sector for the last year or so, Republic Holdings, reported its earnings for the fourth quarter.
So how did the airline do?
The good news is the airline posted a profit. It also posted a 9.1% operating margin. Excellent. (Although that margin was 1.3 points lower than the fourth quarter of 2007).
The bad news is that this profit was much less than the one the airline reported for the same period in 2007, and that growth prospects are, well, you know.
Republic reported today that net income slipped 21.7% for the fourth quarter, to $18.9 million or $0.56 a share.
This compares to the fourth quarter of 2007, when the airline posted a profit of $24.27 million, or $0.65 per share.
However, on the positive side, the results were better than what analysts had forecast. Consensus had the airline coming in at around a $0.47 a share profit.
The company took delivery of eight new E175s during the fourth quarter, while it removed seven CRJ200s and the last two E135s from service. As of Dec. 31 Republic operated 221 aircraft, only two more than at the end of 2007.
Overall, in listening to the call, we were once more reminded of just how difficult it is to run a regional airline these days. There really is no script beyond 30 days, it seems, and your major partners are concerned with one thing — trying to squeeze as much profit out of their operations as possible. If that means putting more pressure on their regional partners, then so be it. The same was true with Republic in the fourth quarter. And as utilization levels drop, costs are going to go up.In the case of Republic it also got hit with Frontier’s bankruptcy this year. All of a sudden there were a lot of planes coming back to them — what were they going to do with them? How much were the carrying costs going to be on these aircraft?
But having said all that — the airline really did do an excellent job of navigating a rough quarter.
The problem now is — what about 2009?
For those of you with really inquiring minds, you can read the public posting of the airline’s earnings call transcript here.