United Airlines reports full-year and fourth-quarter 2016 performance

Eleanor Steed
By Eleanor Steed January 20, 2017 18:00

United Airlines reports full-year and fourth-quarter 2016 performance

United Airlines reported full-year net income of $2.3 billion for 2016, with diluted earnings per share of $6.85, pre-tax earnings of $3.8 billion and pre-tax margin of 10.4 percent. Excluding special items, UAL reported full-year net income of $2.9 billion, diluted earnings per share of $8.65, pre-tax earnings of $4.5 billion and pre-tax margin of 12.2 percent.

During the fourth quarter of 2016, United reported fourth-quarter net income of $397 million, diluted earnings per share of $1.26, pre-tax earnings of $884 million and pre-tax margin of 9.8 percent. Excluding special items, UAL reported fourth-quarter net income of $562 million, diluted earnings per share of $1.78, pre-tax earnings of $857 million and pre-tax margin of 9.5 percent.

“Our fourth quarter financial and operating performance capped an outstanding year for United Airlines,” said Oscar Munoz, chief executive officer of United Airlines. “In 2016, we put into action our plan to become the best airline in the world, and last year’s results demonstrate we are on our way to achieving that ambition. We will continue delivering on this commitment by investing in our employees, elevating our customer experience and driving strong and consistent returns for our shareholders.”

For the fourth quarter of 2016, total revenue was $9.1 billion, an increase of 0.2 percent year-over-year. Fourth-quarter 2016 consolidated passenger revenue per available seat mile (PRASM) decreased 1.6 percent and consolidated yield decreased 1.2 percent compared to the fourth quarter of 2015. This outperformance versus the company’s initial guidance was due to stronger close-in bookings and yields in November and December. For the full-year 2016, consolidated PRASM declined 5.4 percent compared to the prior year driven by factors including a strong U.S. dollar, lower surcharges, reductions from energy-related corporate travel, and declining yields.

“We saw meaningful improvement in the pricing and demand environment in the quarter,” said Scott Kirby, president of United Airlines. “Looking forward, we anticipate first-quarter consolidated unit revenues to be approximately flat, marking the fourth straight quarter of sequential quarter-over-quarter improvement.”

Total operating expense was $8.0 billion in the fourth quarter, up 1.2 percent year-over-year. Excluding special charges, total operating expense was $8.1 billion, a 3.2 percent increase year-over-year. Consolidated unit cost (CASM) decreased 0.8 percent compared to the fourth quarter of 2015 due mainly to lower fuel expense. Fourth-quarter consolidated CASM, excluding special charges, third-party business expenses, fuel and profit sharing, increased 4.1 percent year-over-year driven largely by the impact of labor agreements ratified in 2016. For the full year, consolidated CASM decreased 2.9 percent compared to full-year 2015 due to lower fuel expense. Excluding special charges, third-party business expenses, fuel and profit sharing, consolidated CASM increased 2.8 percent compared to the prior year due primarily to new labor agreements.

“I am very pleased with core cost performance achieved in the fourth quarter and full-year 2016 where we kept non-fuel cost growth excluding new labor deals nearly constant,” said Andrew Levy, executive vice president and chief financial officer of United Airlines. “I have great confidence we will achieve our cost efficiency targets outlined at our investor day as we look to offset rising fuel and labor costs.”

In the fourth quarter, United generated $658 million in operating cash flow and ended the quarter with $5.8 billion in unrestricted liquidity, including $1.35 billion of undrawn commitments under its revolving credit facility. UAL generated $5.5 billion in operating cash flow for the full year. The company continued to invest in its business through capital expenditures of $880 million in the fourth quarter and a total of $3.2 billion for the full year. Including assets acquired through the issuance of debt and airport construction financing and excluding fully reimbursable projects, the company invested $1.1 billion during the fourth quarter and $3.3 billion for the full year in adjusted capital expenditures. Free cash flow, measured as operating cash flow less adjusted capital expenditures, was $2.2 billion for the full year.

For the 12 months ended Dec. 31, 2016, the company’s return on invested capital was 19.3 percent. In the quarter, UAL purchased $156 million of its common shares. For full-year 2016, the company purchased $2.6 billion of its common shares, representing approximately 14 percent of shares outstanding, at an average price of $51.80 per share. As of Dec. 31, 2016, the company had $1.8 billion remaining to purchase shares under its existing share repurchase authority.

Eleanor Steed
By Eleanor Steed January 20, 2017 18:00