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JetBlue Calls a Bottom on Travel Demand

By Lou Whiteman – May 7, 2020 at 9:06AM

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The company expects to know more about the second half of the year by summer.

JetBlue Airways (JBLU 2.26%) on Thursday morning joined a parade of airlines reporting first quarter losses and warning the second quarter will be even worse. But unlike most of its peers, JetBlue seems to think the worst of the COVID-19 induced travel slump will soon be behind us.

Before markets opened, the airline reported a first quarter adjusted loss of $0.42 per share on revenue of $1.59 billion, just short of analyst expectations for a 0.37 per share loss on revenue of $1.69 billion. Revenue was down 15% year over year as the initial impact of the pandemic weighed the business. Revenue is sure to be down significantly more in the second quarter.

JetBlue March capacity declined 19% year over year in the first quarter, and the airline expects second quarter capacity to be down about 80% compared to its original plan.

A collection of JetBlue tails parked together at the airport.

Image source: JetBlue Airways.

Investors went into earnings season knowing the numbers would be rough. The question hanging over the industry is how long travelers will stay away. JetBlue president and chief operating officer Joanna Geraghty struck a more optimistic tone about a recovery than most.

"Although the overall number of bookings remained extremely limited, we believe that we reached the bottom in terms of demand around mid-April, and expect to have a better sense of third and the fourth quarter of 2020 by early summer," Geraghty said.

If so, that would be welcomed news for an industry that has fortified its balance sheets and is ready to manage through a normal recessionary environment but will be unable to sustain operations if traffic doesn't return. United Airlines Holdings is already making plans to cut employees this Fall based on fears traffic will not return, and Southwest Airlines has reached out to union leaders about potential cuts.

JetBlue ended the quarter with $1.8 billion in total liquidity, and since quarter's end the company has increased its liquidity to $3.1 billion thanks in part to proceeds from the CARES Act stimulus plan. The company is currently burning through about $10 million in cash per day, down from $18 million per day in late March.

Lou Whiteman has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Southwest Airlines. The Motley Fool recommends JetBlue Airways. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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