Delta Air Lines Flies in Q4 on Improved Domestic Demand and Lower Fuel Costs

Airline giant Delta Air Lines (NYSE: DAL  ) got clearance from the tower for takeoff this morning after delivering another quarter of impressive domestic and international growth mixed with a good bit of cost reduction.

For the fourth quarter, Delta Air Lines increased revenue by 6.1% over the previous year, to $7.87 billion, as traffic increased 2%, capacity jumped 2.9%, and passenger revenue per available seat mile, a measure of margin for airlines, rose 3%. Quarterly profit soared to $8.5 billion thanks to the reversal of an $8 billion noncash tax valuation allowance, but was a tamer $0.65 per share, or $558 million, when adjusted for special items.

Delta's two biggest boosts came from Latin American operations, which delivered an 18.5% increase in year-over-year revenue -- mostly because of a 16.3% increase in capacity to the region, and a 9.4% increase in domestic revenue, by far Delta's largest contributor to its top line, as yield improved 7.9% and capacity expanded 2.6%.

Delta saw a 1.5% increase in operating expenses due primarily to its higher capacity and passenger volume. Fuel expenses declined $91 million as a result of lower market fuel prices, even though the company reported a $46 million loss from its Trainer refining facility during the fourth quarter. If you recall, Delta Air Lines in 2012 became the first national carrier to purchase its own refinery in an effort to stem rising jet fuel costs. As a result of $1.2 billion in cash flow from operations this past quarter, it was able to further reduce its net debt to $9.4 billion.

Looking ahead, Delta anticipates its first-quarter operating margin will be in a range of 6%-8%, with jet fuel prices falling to $2.97-$3.02 per gallon. Furthermore, it anticipates a modest increase of 0.5%-1.5% in consolidated unit costs and a 2%-3% expansion in capacity.

Delta Air Lines' shares were up nearly 3% in midday trading.

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