American, Northwest, Southwest Airlines Disappoint

American Airlines, Northwest Airlines and Southwest Airlines Wednesday disappointed Wall Street by reporting wider-than-expected losses or falling short of expectations, as higher fuel costs and lower fares took a toll on the nation's airline industry.

AMR Corp. (AMR), the parent company of American Airlines, said Wednesday it lost $387 million or $2.40 per share in the October-December period, compared to a loss of $111 million or 70 cents per share a year earlier.

Northwest Airlines Corp. (NWAC) reported a bigger-than-expected fourth-quarter loss of $420 million and blamed high fuel costs and fare cuts by competitors.

"This was a difficult quarter for Northwest Airlines," president and chief executive Doug Steenland said in a statement.

Dallas-based Southwest Airlines Co. (LUV) said it earned $56 million, or 7 cents per share, a feat that still came in below analysts' forecasts.

AMR Corp. chairman and chief executive Gerard Arpey called the fourth quarter "a disappointing end to a very difficult year."

"AMR's results for the fourth quarter of 2004 reflect the economic woes that plagued the airline industry throughout 2004 — in particular, high fuel prices and a tough revenue environment," Arpey said.

AMR estimated that it spent $477 million more on fuel than it would have if fuel prices had remained at 2003 levels.

Arpey said AMR expects to post more losses in the January-March period, which he said meant that the carrier must continue to focus on cutting costs and raising revenue.

American said it would defer delivery of 54 of 56 jets from Boeing Co, postponing $1.4 billion in spending that had been planned for 2005 through 2007. American also plans to drop 15 jets from its fleet and cancel delivery of 18 smaller, regional jets for its American Eagle affiliate.

During the quarter, Northwest reached a two-year agreement with its pilots that will save the Eagan-based airline $300 million per year â€" $265 million from pilots and $35 million from management and other salaried workers. But talks with mechanics and flight attendants are stalled in disputes over whether rank-and-file members can watch the negotiations. And talks with ground workers are in mediation.

"Once we achieve labor cost restructuring, we believe Northwest has a strong business strategy for success," Steenland said.

Southwest said it saved $174 million during the fourth quarter by hedging, or buying fuel in advance under long-term contracts. Still, it said fuel costs per gallon jumped 20.1 percent. Other costs declined 4.5 percent per mile flown by each passenger, the company said.

The airline said traffic, measured in miles flown by passengers, rose 12.6 percent, enough to overcome a 10.5 increase in capacity. As a result, Southwest's planes flew slightly fuller than they did a year earlier.

Chief executive Gary C. Kelly said earning revenue continued to be a challenge because of a glut of airline seats, a situation that will persist into this year. He said the airline has locked in 85 percent of its first-quarter fuel purchases at the equivalent of $26 per barrel oil.

AMR shares fell 2 cents, to $8.85, while Southwest fell 35 cents, or 2.3 percent, to $14.65, on the New York Stock Exchange (search).

Shares of Northwest fell 15 cents to $8.26 on the Nasdaq Stock Market (search).

The Associated Press contributed to this report.