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JetBlue Posts First Annual Profit Since 2004

JetBlue posts first annual profit since 2004
(Newsday - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- Jet Blue Airways Corp., the Forest Hills-based discount carrier, said yesterday it lost $4million in the fourth quarter, compared with the same quarter last year when it posted a profit. But the airline said it made money for the full year of 2007 -- its first annual profit since 2004, and the stock price soared more than 20 percent.

Jet Blue said the $4-million loss compared with a profit of $17 million in the same period in 2006. The airline said higher fuel costs contributed to the quarterly loss. Jet Blue lost 2 cents a share in the latest quarter. But analysts had been expecting a loss of 5 cents, so the 3-cent difference was viewed as good news by investors. In trading yesterday, Jet Blue stock rose $1 or 20.2 percent to close at $5.94.

Robert W. Mann Jr., a Port Washington-based independent analyst, said investors looked positively not only on the lower-than-expected per-share loss, but also the profitable full year. "Although soaring fuel prices contributed to our fourth-quarter loss, we believe we are well positioned as we move into 2008 with a strong brand, superior product and solid financial position," Jet Blue chief executive David Barger said in a statement before markets opened for trading.

For the full 2007 year, Jet Blue said it earned $18 million, compared with a loss of $1 million for all of 2006. Analysts said Jet Blue's fourth-quarter results were likely hurt also by emptier flights caused by weaker demand from consumers, who might have been cutting back in fear of a national recession.

Analyst Jamie Baker of JPMorgan said Jet Blue's plans to expand capacity by 6 percent to 9 percent this year is "still well in excess of what is warranted." The airline said in a release yesterday that operating revenues for the fourth quarter were $739 million, 16.6 percent higher than the $633 million posted in the fourth quarter of 2006.

A highlight of 2007 for Jet Blue was the 19 percent stake Deutsche Lufthansa AG took in the airline. Lufthansa paid $300 million for its stake, which could bring new sources of traffic to both airlines and help code-sharing deals.

Mann said the Lufthansa deal was "an important milestone" for Jet Blue because of the cash infusion.

Mann said also he believes Jet Blue's revenues will increase this year because of the airline's decision earlier this week to issue its first refundable fares, which will allow customers more flexibility. The new fares will cost about $50 more on short-haul flights than the nonrefundable and $100 more on long-distance flights. ***

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