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American Airlines trims outlook citing 737 Max groundings, but expects planes to fly again by mid-August

Key Points
  • American Airlines stock rebounded after the carrier said it expects its 737 Max jets to be flying again by mid-August.
  • The company cut its earnings forecast for the year, citing a major financial hit from the grounding of Boeing's 737 Max jets and higher fuel prices.
  • The carrier expects a hit to pretax earnings of $350 million after grounding its Max fleet and canceling thousands of flights through August. American also expects 2019 adjusted profit to be between $4 and $6 per share.
A grounded American Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8 is towed to another location at Miami International Airport on March 13, 2019 in Miami, Florida.
Joe Raedle | Getty Images

American Airlines shares rebounded on Friday after the carrier said it expected its Boeing's 737 Max jets to be back in the air by mid-August.

Earlier, the company cut its earnings forecast for the year, citing a major financial hit from the grounding the Max jets and higher fuel prices. Shares tumble as much as 4%, but had recouped those losses by midday to trade up nearly 1%. Before the stock bounced back, it had been down more than 25% over the last 12 months.

American has grounded its 24 Boeing 737 Max jets through August after the anti-stall software was identified as a likely cause in two fatal crashes in Ethiopia and Indonesia. The roughly 155 canceled flights a day comprise 1.5% of American Airlines' total capacity per day in the summer.

Here's what the airline reported, versus average analysts estimates compiled by Refinitiv:

  • Adjusted earnings: 52 cents vs 51 cents per share forecast
  • Revenue: $10.58 billion vs $10.59 billion forecast

The grounding is expected to result in a $350 million hit to American's pretax earnings. The carrier also raised its 2019 fuel cost guidance by $650 million due to higher costs. On an adjusted basis, the company expects to earn between $4 and $6 per share this year.

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Boeing has thoughtful approach to bring 737 Max back into service: Analyst

Despite challenges, American's CEO Doug Parker said that demand was strong heading into the summer. The airline expects unit revenue, which compares sales with flight capacity, to rise by 1% to 3% next quarter.

"As we look forward to 2020 and beyond, we anticipate that our free cash flow production will increase significantly as our historic fleet replacement program winds down. We are very bullish on our future and focused on creating value for our shareholders," he said.

It's unclear when the Max, which has been grounded since mid-March, will return. Several major airlines have canceled thousands of flights through the summer. Boeing has stopped all deliveries and cut production by 20%, and said it has completed 96 flights totaling over 159 hours of air time with the new Max software fix.

American has canceled flights through Aug. 19. On an earnings call Friday, Parker said the date is "as far out into the future as we thought" it will take for the Max to be recertified. He said the company's primary focus is getting the jet flying again.

"To be clear we are regulated by the FAA [Federal Aviation Administration], we know that that aircraft with our pilots, our training systems, with our aircraft, is airworthy. Certainly will be airworthy if the FAA recertifies it," he said.

Rival Southwest Airlines on Thursday reported that the Max groundings, as well as the U.S. government shutdown and some maintenance issues, cost the airline more than $200 million in revenue.

For the first quarter, American said net income rose to $185 million, or 41 cents per share, from $159 million, or 34 cents a share, a year earlier. Adjusted earnings were 52 cents a share, topping analyst estimates by a penny.

Revenue rose 1.8% to $10.58 billion from $10.4 billion a year earlier, slightly missing analyst estimates.

Revenue per available seat mile, a key industry metric, rose by 0.5% to 15.87 cents from a year earlier. Excluding fuel and special items, cost per available seat mile was 11.88 cents, up 2.7% year over year, by a higher volume of heavy maintenance checks.

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American Airlines raises 2019 fuel cost guidance by $650 million
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Key Points
  • The carrier has grappled with the prolonged Boeing 737 Max groundings since mid-March.
  • Southwest, which has 34 of the 737 Max jets, extended cancellations through Aug. 5.
  • The Max comprises less than 5% of its fleet.