Earnings Preview: Delta Air Lines to report for 3Q

Delta Air Lines Inc. reports third-quarter results on Wednesday, and investors will want to know how well demand for business travel is holding up.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR: The quarter has three months, but investors are likely to focus on September. On Thursday, Southwest Airlines said demand _ and pricing _ for business travelers grew weaker in September. Revenue seemed to be rebounding this month, Southwest said. Investors will want to know whether Delta is seeing the same trends.

WHY IT MATTERS: It's hard to overstate how important business travel is for Delta. It's the second-biggest airline in the world by traffic. Like the other big, global airlines, Delta's most profitable customers are business travelers. Leisure travelers help fill the seats, and it wants to make money on them, too. But nothing quite says "ka-ching" like $981 for a short-notice round-trip ticket from Minneapolis to New York.

Investors are antsy because the European economy is in trouble and China isn't growing as fast as it was. Those are both major markets for Delta. The days when a U.S. airline only had to worry about filling planes from, say, Des Moines to Miami are over. Even if the U.S. economy remains strong, slowdowns elsewhere can hurt U.S. airlines.

On the other hand, investors will welcome any word that demand is holding up, or that strength in the U.S. is offsetting travel declines elsewhere.

WHAT'S EXPECTED: A profit of 91 cents per share on revenue of $9.95 billion, according to a FactSet survey of analysts.

LAST YEAR'S QUARTER: Net income of $549 million, or 65 cents per share, on revenue of $9.8 billion. Net income would have been higher then if not for losses on fuel hedges.