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Southwest Posts First Annual Loss In Nearly 50 Years

American Airlines Boeing 777
Associated Press
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American Airlines Boeing 777

A pair of Texas-based airline giants, American Airlines and Southwest Airlines, say annual losses are in the billions of dollars.

American Airlines lost nearly $9 billion, a record for the Fort Worth-based carrier. Meanwhile, $3 billion in 2020 – its first annual loss since 1972.

In the fourth quarter, American Airlines lost $2.2 billion as people stayed put in the pandemic, sending the carrier’s revenue plunging by nearly two-thirds from the same period a year ago.

American predicted that similar revenue trends from late 2020 will carry over into the first three months of 2021.

The results ended a dismal year in which American Airlines Group Inc. lost $8.9 billion after earning nearly $1.7 billion the year before.

Shares of the Fort Worth, Texas, company surged more than 20% in trading before the opening bell, seemingly part of volatile trading elsewhere on Wall Street this week.

Dallas-based Southwest Airlines lost $3 billion in 2020 and close to $1 billion in the 4th quarter alone. A year earlier, the company made money. Southwest CEO Gary Kelly said the whole industry was hit especially hard last year, when Southwest took its first annual loss since 1972.

American shares jumped as much as 10% Wednesday with most of the market selling off strongly, which analysts attributed to volatile trading that has seen other stocks, notably GameStop, become wrapped up in a battle between small investors and short sellers.

Airlines are hoping that a rollout of vaccines against COVID-19 will lead to at least a partial recovery in travel this summer or later in the year. Most people flying now are leisure travelers who typically pay lower fares. Business and international travel, which are both crucial to American and rivals such as Delta and United, are expected to recover more slowly.

The fourth-quarter loss of $2.18 billion amounted to $3.86 per share, after removing special gains. That was slightly better than Wall Street expected. Industry analysts expected per-share loss of $3.92, according to a survey by Zacks Investment Research.

A year earlier, American earned $414 million.

Quarterly revenue dropped more than 64%, to $4.03 billion in the fourth quarter, not quite as bad as Wall Street had expected.

American said it expects first-quarter revenue to lag 60% to 65% below year-ago levels. The first quarter of 2020 included the first few weeks in which the pandemic caused a steep drop in air travel.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Got a tip? Email Reporter Bill Zeeble at bzeeble@kera.org. You can follow him on Twitter @bzeeble.

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