United Airlines Holdings Inc. lost more than $1.3 billion in the first three months of 2021, but executives claimed that an adjusted cash flow metric flipped to positive and promised that new international routes to countries that allow vaccinated travelers will help the airline recover from the devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Monday afternoon, United UAL, -1.58% reported a net loss of $1.36 billion, or $4.29 a share, on revenue of $3.22 billion, a steep drop from revenue of $7.98 billion in the first quarter a year ago, when the COVID-19 pandemic was first declared late in the period. After adjusting for certain items, including a $1.38 billion credit, United reported a loss of $7.50 a share, after reporting an adjusted loss of $2.57 a share a year ago.
Analysts on average were expecting an adjusted loss of $7.08 a share on sales of $3.26 billion, according to FactSet. Shares dipped about 2% in after-hours trading immediately following the release of the results.
In its announcement, United focused less on the standard losses and revenue, instead reporting that an in-house metric of cash flow had returned to positive. The company reported that in the month of March it had “positive core cash flow,” which it defines as net cash effects after accounting for several big-money parts of the pandemic lifestyle for airlines, including CARES Act payroll support and any spending on the recovery efforts or severance for laid-off employees.
Executives also highlighted the opportunities ahead, with vaccinated travelers looking to get away after a year of staying in place.
“United is already moving to capitalize on emerging pent-up demand for travel to countries where vaccinated travelers are welcome. In fact, the company announced new international flying to Greece, Iceland and Croatia earlier today, subject to government approval,” United disclosed in its announcement. “These opportunistic steps help position United to return to positive net income even if business and long-haul international demand only returns to about 35% below 2019 levels.”
United said that on an adjusted-Ebitda basis, it could return to profitability even if its business ends up only recovering about 30% of what it was in 2019.
“We’ve shifted our focus to the next milestone on the horizon and now see a clear path to profitability,” Chief Executive Scott Kirby said in the announcement.
Executives expect to hold a conference call Tuesday morning at 10:30 a.m. Eastern to discuss the results.
United stock has gained 89.1% in the past 12 months, as the S&P 500 index SPX, -0.53% has gained 45.6%.