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Hawaiian Airlines posts earnings jump while keeping eye on China virus

Dave Segal
                                A Hawaiian Airlines plane is seen at Daniel K. Inouye International Airport. Hawaiian’s earnings soared 57.2% in the fourth quarter of last year.
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A Hawaiian Airlines plane is seen at Daniel K. Inouye International Airport. Hawaiian’s earnings soared 57.2% in the fourth quarter of last year.

Hawaiian Airlines’ earnings soared 57.2% in the fourth quarter despite increased capacity that included additional competition from newcomer Southwest Airlines.

The holding company for the state’s largest and oldest carrier reported today that it had net income of $49.7 million, or $1.07 a share, compared with $31.6 million, or 64 cents a share, in the year-earlier period.

On an adjusted basis, Hawaiian had net income of $45.9 million, or 99 cents a share, to beat analysts’ forecasts of $41.8 million, or 91 cents a share.

Revenue rose 1.5% to $708.1 million.

“We faced elevated competition within the Hawaiian Islands between North America and Hawaii and from Japan,” Hawaiian President and CEO Peter Ingram said on an earnings conference call. “Delivering this financial performance is a testament to the competitive advantages that we have built in each of these geographies.”

Hawaiian’s load factor, or the percentage of seats filled, rose 1.5 percentage points last quarter to 86.1%.

The airline said in the fourth quarter that industry capacity rose 9% in North America and 12% in the neighbor islands, contributing to yield pressure and a year-over-year decline in domestic passenger revenue per available seat mile of roughly 6%.

For the year, Hawaiian’s net income fell 4% to $224 million.

Hawaiian expects its year-over-year capacity to increase between 5.5% and 8.5% in 2020 with the largest increase taking place in the first quarter, where it expects year-over-year capacity to rise between 7.5% and 10.5%.

Hawaiian, which previously flew to Beijing, suspended its only China service in October 2018 due to low demand. But Ingram said there still is concern locally about passengers coming in from other Asian nations.

“There is obviously an enormous medical challenge in China and a rapidly growing epidemic in China,” Ingram said. “And from the perspective of the airline industry, that is manifesting itself in significant reductions in near-term demand. I think you have seen in the last 48 hours the response of global airlines serving China to that to rapidly reduce, and in a number of cases, eliminate capacity to China. So clearly, that’s an acute impact in the here and now.

Ingram said Hawaiian’s isn’t participating in those route reductions because “we don’t have a dog in that hunt.”

However, he said in terms of looking at Hawaiian’s network, the next question then becomes what happens from here with the coronavirus in countries outside China, whether it’s in the Asia region or North America or Australasia.

“We’ve got again a lot of uncertainty,” he said. “In any of the countries that we serve, to-date, there are single-digit typically reported cases of the coronavirus … It’s really difficult to extrapolate where it goes from here and whether the severe medical issues that are existing in China end up being exported at scale to other geographies.”

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