Delta Air Lines says it could see savings of more than $2 billion in 2015 over last year’s levels, citing lower fuel prices as a factor that can help the airline book double-digit earnings growth for the upcoming year.
Airlines like Delta (DAL) are seen as one of the greatest beneficiaries of tumbling oil prices in recent months, as fuel is a great cost to the industry. Some publications, such as The Wall Street Journal, have begun to speculate U.S. airlines could use the fuel savings to pay down debt or reward shareholders with stock repurchases. Meanwhile, some politicians are calling on an investigation as to why plane tickets are still so high despite the steep drop for the price of fuel.
Delta’s latest results indicate it is a mixed blessing. The company’s fourth-quarter results for 2014 came with a $1.2 billion charge tied to fuel hedging. That charge led Delta to book a $712 million loss for the period. But excluding those hedging adjustments, Delta said fuel expenses tumbled $342 million, driven by lower market prices and higher refinery profits.
Delta is also seeing a tailwind to the upcoming fuel savings it will see this year.
“We expect a net year-over-year fuel price benefit of $500 million in the March quarter and will work throughout 2015 to maximize the benefit of fuel savings to our bottom line,” said Chief Financial Officer Paul Jacobson.
Delta is also in an unusual position because it has owned a Pennsylvania refinery since 2012, a move the company made to help it navigate turbulent swings in fuel prices. Operations at the refinery produced a $105 million profit for the latest quarter. Delta’s refinery primarily provides jet fuel for the benefit of the airline, though the company sells fuel by-products to third parties from time to time.
And beyond the fuel benefits, Delta and other airlines are aided by more demand for travel. Overall revenue climbed 6% to $9.65 billion, bolstered by a 4% increase in traffic on a 3.7% increase in capacity.