Yesterday, April 19, after the close United Airlines (UAL) reported a loss of $3.21 a share (excluding non-recurring items) or a $7.50 a share all in loss for the first quarter of 2021. Wall Street had been looking for an all-in loss of $6.97 for the quarter. Operating revenues of $3.221 billion also fell short of estimates at $3.253 billion.
The revenue line plunged 59.6% year over year due to a drop in passenger revenue. The 67.2% fall in passenger revenue was mitigated to a degree by an 88.3% increase in cargo revenue. Consolidated passenger revenue per available seat mile (PRASM: a key measure of unit revenues) decreased 34.2% year over year to 7.63 cents. Total revenue per available seat mile (TRASM) fell 18.9% to 10.61 cents.
In the quarter United reduced capacity (measured in available set mile) by 50.2%. Even with that reduction, the percentage of seat occupancy by fell 14.1%. United brought down adjusted operating costs by 28.3% year over year.
United didn’t guide to a immediate return to pre-pandemic conditions in the second quarter. The airline anticipates second-quarter 2021 total revenue per available seat mile to decline approximately 20% compared with the second quarter of 2019. Additionally, capacity is expected to decrease around 45% from the second-quarter 2019 levels.
Nonetheless, the company said that it sees “a clear path to profitability.” And CEO Scott Kirby said that the company is confident of being able to achieve its goal of exceeding 2019 adjusted EBITDA margins in 2023 or sooner.
It’s that “or sooner” part that’s got Wall Street’s attention at the moment–for United and other post-vaccine recovery stocks. These companies are on a path to see revenue recovery to 2019 pre-pandemic levels, but it makes a big difference whether that recovery comes in 2022 or in 2023.
Shares of United Airlines finished the day, April 20, down 8.53%