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Strong airline forecasts defy fears of an economic slowdown

·Reporter
·3 min read
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The major airlines aren't sounding the alarm on the economy yet.

On Thursday, both Southwest Airlines (LUV) and JetBlue (JBLU) raised their quarterly guidance, citing strong demand heading into the critical summer travel season. Both upward revisions came just weeks after the companies initially reported their forecasts last month.

"JetBlue’s operational performance has improved steadily since early April," the company said in a filing Thursday. "The demand environment continues to be strong, with bookings exceeding Company expectations."

JetBlue added that sales for June are "shaping up to be meaningfully better compared to earlier months in the quarter." For the second quarter ending on June 30, revenue will now likely be at or above the high-end of previous guidance for a between 11% and 16% increase compared to 2019, JetBlue said. And available seat miles (ASM), a closely watched metric for airlines, will likely grow between 2% and 3% over 2019 levels, versus prior guidance for flat to up 3%.

The optimistic forecast stands in stark contrast to the far less rosy outlooks issued by companies outside of the travel industry.

Dismal guidance from retailers including Walmart (WMT), Target (TGT) and Abercrombie & Fitch (ANF) painted the picture of an economy softening much more rapidly than many had anticipated in the face of inflation. The pessimism translated to a broader market slide last week, which was extended even further after social media company Snap (SNAP) slashed its own guidance earlier this week amid a macroeconomic environment it said had "deteriorated further and faster than anticipated."

FILE - A Southwest Airlines Boeing 737-7H4 takes off, Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020, from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.  Airline stocks are soaring, with Southwest and JetBlue saying revenue this summer will be even stronger than they were expecting. The airlines made their comments Thursday, May 26, 2022, in regulatory filings.  (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
Airline stocks are soaring, with Southwest and JetBlue saying revenue this summer will be even stronger than they were expecting. The airlines made their comments Thursday, May 26, 2022, in regulatory filings. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

But the airlines suggest there have been pockets of strength even in the midst of these concerns, as consumers appear willing to spend on travel that hadn't been accessible at the height of the pandemic. Southwest on Thursday also raised its guidance, and now expects operating revenue to grow between 12% and 15% for the fiscal second quarter compared to 2019. It previously saw a rise of between 8% and 12%.

"The Company continues to experience strong load factors and an acceleration in bookings for summer travel," the airline said in a Thursday filing.

These latest forecasts from Southwest and JetBlue built on upbeat outlooks issued by other travel companies in recent weeks, which have all pointed to persistent pent-up demand for travel ahead of the summer.

United Airlines (UAL) earlier this month updated its guidance, saying that "the demand environment has continued to improve." Marriott's (MAR) CEO Anthony Capuano also told Yahoo Finance that he expected a "blockbuster summer," while Airbnb (ABNB) told investors it was already "seeing substantial demand for summer travel" in early May.

Importantly, each of these outlooks have underscored the strength of demand, even as supply-side concerns like rising energy prices remain.

"The improvement in the Company's second quarter 2022 operating revenue guidance is primarily attributable to continued passenger yield strength, which has more than offset the increase in its second quarter 2022 fuel price projection," Southwest said in its filing.

And the details of even the retailers' grim guidance has also shown much more resilience in demand relative to supply. Walmart, Target and Abercrombie & Fitch each exceeded estimates for first-quarter revenue while cutting full-year earnings forecasts, given expectations that they would have to absorb rising transportation, labor, and other input costs, and potentially slash prices on products they'd stockpiled over the past year.

Peer retailer Macy's (M) summed it up succinctly in its earnings report Thursday morning.

"While macroeconomic pressures on consumer spending increased during the quarter, our customers continued to shop," the company said.

Emily McCormick is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter.

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