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Why Q1 Earnings Could Be Dampening for Delta (DAL) Stock

Delta Air Lines, Inc. DAL is scheduled to report first-quarter 2016 results on Apr 14, before the market opens. With this, Delta will kick off the earnings season in the airline sector.

This Atlanta, GA-based carrier had reported lower-than-expected earnings in the fourth quarter of 2015, marking the sole earnings miss in the last four quarters. The average earnings beat is 1.82%. Let’s see how things are shaping up for this announcement.

Factors at Play

As pointed out, Delta had missed on earnings in the fourth quarter of 2015 despite cheap oil. It is obvious that analysts have already accounted for this major tailwind for airline companies while setting their earnings estimates, courtesy the extended period of the oil price slump.

We fear that the story might be similar in the first quarter of 2016 as well. Even though bottom-line expansion on a year-over-year basis is highly probable owing to cheap oil (the carrier expects average fuel price per gallon in the band of $1.33 to $1.37, marking a huge reduction from the year-ago figure of $2.93), the company might yet again report an earnings miss as the oil slump is already priced in.

Moreover, we expect the struggles to continue on the revenue front in the first quarter of 2016. Foreign currency headwinds and the Brussels attack are likely to hurt the top line in the quarter. Delta expects passenger revenue per available seat mile (PRASM: a key measure of unit revenue) to decline approximately 4.5% in the first quarter. System capacity is projected to increase approximately 2.7%.

However, we are encouraged by the company’s efforts to reward shareholders through dividend payments and buybacks. We expect an update on the same at the first-quarter conference call. With so much to look forward to, we expect investor focus to remain on Delta’s results. We believe that the earnings report of this key airline player will provide a foresight into the first-quarter performance of the airline industry.

Earnings Whispers

Our quantitative model doesn’t call for an earnings beat either. Here’s why:

Delta doesn’t have the right combination of the two key ingredients – positive Earnings ESP and a Zacks Rank #3 (Hold) or better – for increasing the odds of an earnings surprise.

Zacks ESP:  The Earnings ESP for Delta is -2.31%. This is because the Most Accurate estimate is currently $1.27 while the Zacks Consensus Estimate is pegged higher at $1.30.

Zacks Rank: The carrier carries a Zacks Rank #3, which alone isn’t enough to secure an earnings beat.

Stocks That Warrant a Look

Here are a few transportation stocks that you may want to consider, as our model shows that these have the right combination for an earnings beat this quarter:

Copa Holdings SA CPA with a Zacks Rank #3 and Earnings ESP of +16.79%. The carrier is expected to report results on May 4.

Canadian Pacific Railway Limited CP with a Zacks Rank #2 (Buy) and Earnings ESP of +2.29%. The company is scheduled to report results on Apr 20.

Canadian National Railway Company CNI with a Zacks Rank #2 and Earnings ESP of +3.03%. The company will release its results on Apr 25.

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Want the latest recommendations from Zacks Investment Research? Today, you can download 7 Best Stocks for the Next 30 Days. Click to get this free report
 
DELTA AIR LINES (DAL): Free Stock Analysis Report
 
COPA HLDGS SA-A (CPA): Free Stock Analysis Report
 
CDN NATL RY CO (CNI): Free Stock Analysis Report
 
CDN PAC RLWY (CP): Free Stock Analysis Report
 
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