Delta's fourth-quarter earnings top Wall Street's expectations

  • Delta's fourth-quarter earnings beat expectations.
  • The airline's revenue of $10.74 billion was roughly in line with expectations.
  • Delta executives will hold a call with analysts at 10 a.m. ET to discuss the results.

Strong travel demand helped lift Delta Air Lines' revenue in the last three months of the year, but the airline warned it it expected little growth in the first months of 2019 because of Easter holiday and the partial government shutdown.

Delta's total revenue rose to $10.74 billion during the fourth quarter, in line with analysts' forecasts and up 5 percent from $10.23 billion during the same period in 2017. Delta's net income grew more than threefold to $1 billion during the last three months of 2018 from $299 million a year earlier, the company said.

The Atlanta-based carrier posted adjusted earnings per share of $1.30, compared with $1.27 expected by analysts polled by Refinitiv.

Its shares were up 0.2 percent in early trading.

Delta's revenue for each passenger it flies a mile, a key industry metric, rose 3.2 percent in the three months ended in December from the year-earlier period, slightly higher than the 3 percent forecast earlier this month but below the 3.5 percent it estimated last year.

That figure will likely be flat to up 2 percent in the first quarter of 2019 from the same period last year, Delta said in a release, attributing the scant growth to a late Easter, a popular travel holiday, which falls in the second quarter, and the U.S. government shutdown. Delta's CEO Ed Bastian told CNBC in an interview that the airline will lose $25 million in revenue this month from the shutdown as fewer government employees and contractors are traveling.

Delta said it expects to earn 70 cents to 90 cents a share in the first three months of 2019, a range below the 94 cents analysts expected before the release. For the full year, Delta expects to grow earnings to $6 to $7 a share thanks to higher revenue and savings from lower fuel prices and other expenses. Delta generated full-year earnings of $5.65 a share on an adjusted basis in 2018.

Investors have sent airline stocks tumbling in recent weeks on concerns that some carriers aren't growing revenue as quickly as previously expected. Delta shares are down more than 20 percent over the past 12 months.

Executives are holding a call with analysts at 10 a.m. ET. United Continental Holdings, the parent of United Airlines, will report fourth-quarter and full-year results after the market closes on Tuesday and a call with analysts on Wednesday at 10:30 a.m. ET.