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Delta Profit Tops Estimates as Fares Outpace Rising Fuel Costs

Delta Air Lines Inc.’s fourth-quarter profit topped analysts’ estimates as higher fares outpaced rising jet-fuel costs.

Earnings excluding some items more than doubled to $379 million, or 45 a share, the Atlanta-based carrier said today in a statement. That exceeded the 38-cent average of 15 analysts’ estimates compiled by Bloomberg. Profit on that basis a year earlier was $158 million.

Delta, the world’s second-largest carrier, benefited from planes that were more than 80 percent full, which gave it more pricing power to raise fares and helped overcome increased jet-fuel expenses. Delta also reduced flying on trans-Atlantic routes in response to plummeting demand for travel to Europe, which lowered costs.

In the coming year, Delta will focus on “sustained profitability and superior returns by growing and diversifying our revenues, while taking a disciplined approach to capacity, costs and capital spending,” Chief Executive Officer Richard Anderson said in the statement.

Net income surged to $425 million, or 50 cents a share, from 19 million, or 2 cents, a year earlier. Fuel costs rose about 5 percent to $2 billion.

Delta and US Airways Group Inc. release results today, becoming the second and third major U.S. carriers to give fourth-quarter figures. Southwest Airlines Co. posted a profit last week.

Southwest’s earnings excluding benefits on fuel-purchase contracts fell 43 percent to $66 million, or 9 cents a share, which beat the 8-cent average of 14 analysts’ estimates. The Dallas-based carrier also said it may delay any expansion to as late as 2014 because $100-a-barrel oil is eroding profit growth.

United Airlines and Continental Airlines merged in 2010, surpassing Delta as the world’s biggest carrier.

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