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What US Airways' Earnings Will Say About Its Future

By Dan Caplinger - Apr 18, 2013 at 10:15AM

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A pre-merger look at the airline should reveal secrets about its strategic plans.

Next Monday, US Airways (NYSE: LCC) will release its latest quarterly results. The key to making smart investment decisions on stocks reporting earnings is to anticipate how they'll do before they announce results, leaving you fully prepared to respond quickly to whatever inevitable surprises arise. That way, you'll be less likely to make an uninformed knee-jerk reaction to news that turns out to be exactly the wrong move.

For years, US Airways was the odd airline out in the U.S. market, as competitors combined to create massive airlines that dwarfed the Arizona-based company. But as plans have fallen into place for US Airways to make a big merger of its own, its future looks a lot brighter and full of opportunity. Let's take an early look at what's been happening with US Airways over the past quarter and what we're likely to see in its quarterly report.

Stats on US Airways

Analyst EPS Estimate

$0.28

Year-Ago EPS

($0.13)

Revenue Estimate

$3.37 billion

Change From Year-Ago Revenue

3.1%

Earnings Beats in Past 4 Quarters

4

Source: Yahoo! Finance.

Will US Airways fly higher this quarter?
Analysts have had curiously mixed views on US Airways over the past quarter. They've boosted their estimates on the just-ended quarter sharply, with a $0.23 gain in earnings per share. But they've reduced their full-year 2013 and 2014 calls significantly, with a $0.65 cut for 2014 looking especially harsh. The stock, though, has continued rising higher, with gains of about 9% since mid-January.

For US Airways, the big news of the quarter was that its long-awaited merger with American Airlines parent AMR continued to press forward, with AMR filing its plan with the bankruptcy court to set out key terms of the merger. Antitrust regulators haven't yet signed off on the deal, but given their approval of similarly large past mergers, investors are hopeful that the merger will go through later this year.

Beneath the headlines from the merger, US Airways has seen some encouraging numbers in its core business. During March, revenue passenger miles rose by 5.2% compared to the previous year, while load factors for its mainline service hit a record high. However, troubling trends on falling last-minute bookings have raised questions about whether the big rally in airline stocks has run its course.

Moreover, the combined company will face some major competitive pressures. Delta Air Lines (DAL -5.82%) plans to emphasize its growth strategy in the key American Airlines markets of New York and Los Angeles, with Delta's recent deal to buy a 49% stake in Virgin Atlantic challenging American's dominance of New York-London service. Meanwhile, Southwest Airlines (LUV -3.80%) is moving into Charlotte, a key hub for US Airways, and will bolster its presence in its home market of Dallas, which has long been an essential mid-continent presence for American.

In US Airways' quarterly report, watch fuel costs closely to see how much falling prices for jet fuel end up benefiting the company's bottom line. With the core summer season right around the corner, much will depend on airlines hanging onto those gains in the form of higher margins rather than giving them to customers through fare decreases.

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Stocks Mentioned

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