By Tracy Rucinski
(Reuters) – Southwest Airlines Co on Tuesday posted a $94 million quarterly net loss, its first in nine years, and warned of drastic revenue drops ahead as it sought to raise another $2.6 billion to help weather the coronavirus pandemic.
Its shares opened down 1% at $28.82 after it announced a public stock offering of 55 million shares, worth around $1.6 billion at Monday’s closing price of $29.11, and $1 billion worth of convertible debt.
The COVID-19 crisis has decimated travel demand, with unprecedented flight cancellations in the second half of March, forcing airlines to preserve and raise cash.
Dallas-based Southwest swung to a net loss of $94 million for the quarter ended March 31, compared to a profit of $387 million a year earlier. Excluding special items, the loss was $77 million, or a $0.15 loss per share. Total operating revenue fell 17.8% to $4.2 billion. It sees operating revenue falling by 90-95% in both April and May, when it does not expect load factors to surpass 10%.
While the airline has more bookings for June and July – albeit in a drastically reduced flight schedule – it said it cannot reasonably estimate any revenue trends beyond May.
“We have no idea what kind of cancellations will come through before those travel dates; there’s no way to be comfortable with what will happen to those reservations,” Southwest CEO Gary Kelly told Reuters.
The coronavirus outbreak has led to the deaths of more than 207,000 people, including more than 55,000 in the United States, a Reuters tally shows.
Stay-at-home orders remain in place across much of the world and it is an open question as to when people will feel comfortable traveling again and under what safety requirements.
Airlines including Southwest support pre-boarding temperature checks, face masks and social distancing measures on airplanes and in airports.
“We do think there’s a role for the federal government to play here and as an industry we’ll be advocating for that,” Kelly said.
Southwest’s average daily cash burn will slow to between $30 million and $35 million in the second quarter, due to a series of cost-cutting measures and capital raisings, including government aid, it said.
The airline is receiving about $3.3 billion in government payroll support and said it was considering tapping an additional $2.8 billion in secured government loans under the stimulus package known as the CARES Act, among other liquidity options.
It had $9.3 billion in cash and short-term investments as of April 24, with leverage of 47%.
Under the terms of government payroll support, airlines cannot lay off employees before Sept. 30. If demand remains weak, Southwest has said it may need to reduce its workforce after that date and rethink its fleet.
Southwest, which only operates Boeing 737s and is the world’s largest customer of the grounded 737 MAX, said it has reached an agreement with Boeing Co to take no more than 48 new 737 MAX jets until Dec. 2021, a fraction of the 123 it had originally scheduled.
It has removed the MAX from its fleet until Oct. 30 as the jet awaits regulatory approval to fly again following two fatal crashes.
Delta Air Lines Inc posted a first-quarter loss last week and American Airlines Group Inc and United Airlines Holdings Inc are due to report on Thursday.
(Reporting by Tracy Rucinski and Sanjana Shivdas; editing by Jason Neely and Nick Zieminski)