Delta Air Lines is not losing as much money a day as it was earlier in the pandemic and has its sights set on having positive cash flow in the spring, but the company still posted a large loss in the third quarter.
It reported that it had brought its cash burn down to $18 million per day in the month of September, an improvement from the $27 million per day it had averaged in June, in its third-quarter earnings report before the market opened on Tuesday, October 13. Even so, it suffered a net income loss of close to $5.4 billion in the third quarter, down from the nearly $1.5 billion it made in the third quarter last year.
The company posted a loss of $3.30 per share, compared to a gain of $2.33 in last year’s third quarter.
Cash burn measures negative cash flow, helping show how much runway a company has in using up its cash reserves. It’s a term that investors are starting to see more in the earnings reports released by major airlines. The reason for this burn is that despite airlines bringing in far less revenue now than they were prior to the pandemic, they still have many expenses. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) estimates that airlines will burn through $77 billion in cash during the second half of 2020.
The good news for most airlines is that the industry was doing well prior to the pandemic, giving carriers the resources needed to weather a temporary storm. Delta reported that it ended the third quarter with $21.6 billion in liquidity.
Delta CEO Ed Bastian said in a call discussing the earnings that the company expects to bring the burn rate down to $10 million per day in December, “with good line of sight to positive cash flow by the spring.”
“Once we achieve that milestone, we’ll have a heightened focus on paying down debt,” he said.
But breaking even will likely depend on factors outside of Delta’s control.
“I’d say the key factors are really vaccine development and deployment and people’s willingness to resume traveling after that,” said Burk Huey, an equity analyst at Morningstar who covers airlines.
Even though Delta projected positivity in regards to cash burn, the market reacted negatively, with shares of the airline falling 2.67 percent the day the report came out, a sign that investors may still be concerned about Delta’s prospects for achieving profitability in the future.
Delta’s competitors have also reported losses in their third-quarter reports. A day after Delta’s report, United Airlines posted earnings showing a $1.8 billion net loss in the third quarter. Airlines continue to look to Washington for signs of relief, but further economic stimulus seems increasingly unlikely until after the election.