JetBlue Airways (JBLU) earnings Q4 2023

JetBlue swings to a loss, forecasts lower capacity in 2024

JetBlue Airways swung to a loss in the fourth quarter and forecast lower capacity this year as it scrambles to return to profitability.

The airline expects revenue to drop between 5% and 9% in the first three months of the year, more than the 5.5% decline Wall Street analysts were predicting. Capacity in the first quarter will be down as much as 6%, the airline said.

JetBlue said it expects 2024 capacity to be down in the low single digits and that its adjusted margins could approach breakeven. Its shares fell 4.7% Tuesday.

In an investor presentation, JetBlue said it has seven Airbus jets out of service for engine inspections stemming from a production problem at manufacturer Pratt & Whitney, a unit of RTX. It said that number could rise to as much as 15 by the end of the year.

The airline has been grappling with higher costs, operational challenges and changing travel patterns, just as a federal judge earlier this month barred its plan to acquire Spirit Airlines for $3.8 billion. JetBlue warned last week the agreement with Spirit could be terminated, but it didn’t provide further detail on Tuesday. JetBlue is also offering buyouts to some salaried workers to cut costs.

The New York-based carrier said Tuesday it plans to defer $2.5 billion in spending on new aircraft until the end of the decade. Joanna Geraghty, JetBlue’s COO and incoming chief executive, declined to say on the call whether Airbus provided JetBlue incentives to defer aircraft as other carriers scramble for new jets. Reuters reported earlier this week that United Airlines is seeking Airbus A321neo planes, which JetBlue also has on order, after expressing frustration about production problems at Boeing.

Geraghty, however, said on the earnings call: “I do believe that this was a win-win for both [Airbus] and ourselves over the next few years.”

Here’s what JetBlue reported for the fourth quarter, compared with Wall Street expectations complied by LSEG, formerly known as Refinitiv:

  • Adjusted loss per share: 19 cents vs. 28 cents expected
  • Revenue: $2.33 billion vs. $2.29 billion expected

The New York-based airline reported a net loss of $104 million for the last three months of 2023, compared with a $24 million profit a year earlier. On a per-share basis, JetBlue lost 31 cents during the fourth quarter, or 19 cents on an adjusted basis, compared with a 7-cent profit during the year-earlier period.

Revenue for the fourth quarter was down 3.7% year over year, though still slightly ahead of Wall Street estimates.

JetBlue has been tweaking its network to focus on more profitable flights. CNBC reported JetBlue’s planned flight cuts earlier this month.

“Demand during peak periods remains strong, and we continue to manage our capacity during off-peak periods to reflect evolving demand trends,” said Geraghty said in the earnings release. “We plan to continue to refine our network and product offering to better serve our leisure customers while diversifying revenues with margin-accretive initiatives.”

Other airlines including Southwest have also slowed their growth or refined their networks to avoid overcapacity — and low fares — during off-peak periods, while discounting less popular flights.

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