JetBlue Narrowly Keeps Profit Streak Alive

JetBlue Airways Inc. (JBLU) eked out a fourth-quarter profit, the low-cost carrier reported Thursday, narrowly dodging a first-ever quarterly loss analysts had predicted due to a hedge against high fuel costs.

JetBlue, which has posted a profit every quarter since its initial public offering in April 2002, said fourth-quarter net income plunged to $2.4 million, or 2 cents a share, from $19.54 million, or 17 cents a share, a year earlier.

Wall Street analysts, on average, expected a loss of 4 cents a share.

JetBlue shares rose nearly 4 percent in premarket trading.

"Solid results for a tough quarter," said JP Morgan analyst Jamie Baker in a research note, adding that the airline's bottom line had been helped by lower costs.

But he said JetBlue could still end its profit streak in the first quarter, predicting a loss for the period of 7 to 10 cents a share.

JetBlue, which like other airlines has been struggling with record high fuel prices, said it had realized a $13.1 million benefit in the quarter from a fuel hedging program.

It said operating revenue in the quarter rose 27 percent to $334 million.

Shares of the airline, a former Wall Street darling, have lost 26 percent since the end of 2003, slightly underperforming the American Stock Exchange Airlines index, down (search) 25 percent for the period.

JetBlue is the second-largest U.S. airline by market value after leading low-cost carrier Southwest Airlines (LUV).

The New York-based airline said it ended the quarter with $449.2 million in cash and short-term investments.

The airline's passenger load factor -- a measure of how successfully it filled its planes -- fell by 0.2 percentage points to 82.9 percent.

Passenger traffic surged 36 percent, about in line with the airline's increase in capacity for the period.

JetBlue, which markets itself as a discount carrier with perks, offering frills like in-seat digital entertainment systems and leather seats, has been aggressively expanding.

It plans to add 14 Airbus A320 jets to its existing fleet of 70 planes this year, along with 7 Embraer E190 (search) regional jets.