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Lufthansa Posts Surprise Return to Profit as Bookings Surge

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(Bloomberg) --

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Deutsche Lufthansa AG posted a surprise profit driven by booming cargo demand, and said a reopening of the U.S. border to Europeans will keep earnings positive through year-end.

The shares jumped as much as 5.3% after the German group reported adjusted earnings before interest and tax of 17 million euros ($20 million) for the third quarter, its first profit since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The buoyant outlook, following strong results from Air France-KLM, signals that the travel recovery is extending to large network airlines. Both European carriers got a boost from cargo operations over summer, with prices remaining high even as capacity returns. While Lufthansa’s passenger operations posted a loss, the U.S. will reopen to foreign visitors next week, releasing pent-up demand for corporate travel and family trips over the holidays.

Lufthansa’s reliance on business travel continues to hold down results, though “all passenger groups are showing signs of recovery, and cost restructuring progresses,” said Bernstein analyst Alex Irving.

Lufthansa shares advanced 5.1%, the most in more than a month, as of 9:31 a.m. in Frankfurt.

The cargo division posted its best-ever performance, as a structural shift to online shopping during the pandemic spurred air freight. Snarled supply links by train and sea have also shifted some goods to air, providing a lifeline to airlines with big freight operations.

Profit at the unit reached 301 million euros, while the group’s full-service airlines had a 304 million-euro loss.

U.S. Reopening

With the U.S. opening up to more travelers, the company said it should be able to at least halve its full-year loss from 2020. It had previously predicted only that the shortfall would be narrower than last year’s 5.45 billion loss based on adjusted EBIT.

Passenger bookings are now back to four-fifths of pre-crisis levels, Lufthansa said, with the group set to offer more than 70% of its usual capacity in 2022.

Eurowings Boost

The Eurowings discount brand was also profitable following a revival in short-haul European travel. Bernstein’s Irving called the performance “particularly impressive” and a sign of the strength of the leisure recovery.

Cost cuts implemented during the pandemic are also benefiting Lufthansa. The company said it’s nearing its target of cutting the payroll to 100,000 people from almost 140,000 before the crisis, with 3,000 staff yet to agree their departure. A new voluntary exit plan has begun for cabin crew.

Analysts had predicted a third-quarter loss of 169 million euros, based on a Bloomberg survey.

Air France, IAG

Air France-KLM posted a return to profit last week and predicted its 12-month result would be slightly positive.

Irving said in a note that Lufthansa “arguably faces a tougher battle” than its rival given a greater reliance on corporate travel versus Air France’s more leisure-centric network.

IAG SA, Europe’s third major airline group and the owner of British Airways, is due to report quarterly figures Friday.

(Updates with shares from second paragraph, analyst comment in fourth)

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