Delta sees double benefit from tax cut, shares rise

(Reuters) – Delta Air Lines Inc (DAL.N) looks set to reap a double benefit from the U.S. corporate tax cut this year as it saves money on its own bill and hopes to see an uptick in business travel as companies use tax savings to invest in generating new business.

“We’re very excited about the potential for increased business demand with the tax cuts,” Delta President Glen Hauenstein told analysts in a conference call after quarterly earnings on Thursday.

“We haven’t seen that materialize yet, but we expect that to materialize in the first quarter.”

The No. 2 U.S. carrier reported better-than-expected fourth-quarter profit, helped by higher business fares and a busy holiday travel season, and forecast even better performance this quarter.

Its shares rose 2.5 percent to $57.20 on the New York Stock Exchange, helping the NYSE Arca airline index .XAL up 2.3 percent, on track for its best day since Nov. 29.

Atlanta-based Delta forecast total unit revenue, a measurement closely watched by investors, to increase by 2.5 percent to 4.5 percent in the first quarter of 2018, not including any benefit from increased travel that may result from the tax cut.

In December, U.S. Congress passed a sweeping tax law designed to kick-start economic growth that slashed the corporate rate to 21 percent from 35 percent.

Several U.S. companies have already said they will make more investments in their businesses and raise pay or bonuses for workers because of the new tax law.

Delta said on Thursday the law would cut its own tax rate to between 22 percent and 24 percent in 2018. Partly due to those savings, Delta raised its full-year profit outlook to between $6.35 and $6.70 per share, well ahead of Wall Street estimates.

FIRST OUT OF THE GATE

Delta is the first to report earnings after a broadly positive quarter, where airlines managed to hike fares to partially offset growth in costs.

Earlier this week United Airlines (UAL.N) and American Airlines (AAL.O) forecast higher unit revenue, followed by JetBlue Airways Corp (JBLU.O) on Thursday.

Delta’s quarterly net profit fell as it took a combined hit of $60 million from December’s power outage at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Airport and Winter Storm Benji. It also took a one-time charge of $150 million due to the tax code change.

Including those items, Delta’s fourth-quarter net income dipped to $572 million, or 80 cents per share, compared with $622 million, or 84 cents per share, a year earlier. …

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