October 14, 2020

United Airlines posts $1.8 billion net loss in pandemic slump, cuts cash burn


  • United Airlines posted a $1.8 billion net loss in the third quarter.
  • The coronavirus continued to hit travel demand during what is normally the busiest travel season of the year.
  • United was able to further trim its cash burn but still lost about $25 million a day in the quarter.

United Airlines on Wednesday posted a wider-than-expected third-quarter loss as the coronavirus pandemic continued to hammer air travel demand, but the carrier trimmed its cash burn.

Here’s how United performed compared with what Wall Street expected, based on average estimates compiled by Refinitiv:

  • Adjusted EPS: a loss of $8.16 versus an expected loss of $7.53 per share.
  • Revenue: $2.49 billion versus $2.50 billion, expected.

The Chicago-based carrier swung to a net loss of $1.8 billion in the three months ended Sept. 30, from a $1 billion profit a year ago.

Revenue in the period dropped 78% to $2.49 billion from $11.38 billion in the third quarter of 2019, roughly in line with Wall Street expectations, after the airline cut capacity 70% from last year. Excluding one-time items, United posted a per-share loss of $8.16, compared with analysts’ estimates of a per-share loss of $7.53.

Airlines have struggled during the pandemic, particularly large carriers like United, Delta and American, which were heavily reliant on international and business areas, two of the hardest-hit segments.

United’s results come a day after Delta reported a $5.4 billion net loss for the third quarter.

United cut its daily cash burn in the quarter to $25 million a day, including debt and severance payments, down from an average of $40 million a day in the previous quarter.

The airline ended the quarter with $19.4 billion in liquidity. Like other carriers United has raised billions to help weather the coronavirus, through stock and debt sales, including $6.8 billion in debt it backed by its MileagePlus frequent flyer program. U.S. airlines also received portions of $25 billion in federal payroll support that expired after Sept. 30, opening the door to job cuts.

United early this month started furloughing some 13,000 employees after the terms of federal payroll support expired. United and other carriers are pushing for additional aid but Congress and the White House have repeatedly failed to reach a coronavirus stimulus deal that could include the extra relief for carriers.

While many potential customers stayed home during the summer, United’s cargo business was a bright spot in the quarter, with revenue growing 50% to $422 million, highlighting how certain corners of the airline are becoming more important in the pandemic.

United shares were down 0.4% in post-market trading.

Executives will walk investors through results at 10:30 a.m. ET Thursday.

By Leslie Josephs

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