* WestJet reports higher-than-expected Q4 profit
* Rising fuel jet costs remains a headwind in 2017
* US travel ban might present growth opportunity for Canada
* Shares edge down 0.2 pct, bucking broader market
(Adds comments from conference call)
By Allison Lampert
Feb 7 WestJet Airlines Ltd expects to
generate higher revenue at the start of 2017 by flying more
passengers while its chief executive said that a
recently-announced U.S. travel ban might present a growth
Canada's second-largest carrier warned that increasing fuel
costs are an anticipated headwind after the Calgary-based
company reported a higher-than-expected fourth quarter profit by
flying more passengers and cost controls.
WestJet Chief Executive Gregg Saretsky told analysts that
the carrier has not seen higher traffic related to the recently
announced U.S. travel ban on visitors from seven countries,
though he said it could present an opportunity.
"As border issues and political issues continue to intensify
I think there is perhaps an opportunity for Canada to benefit
from increasing foreign tourist arrivals," he said. "We are
watching with interest what's going on with the change in
WestJet expects a rise in revenue per available seat mile
(RASM) to grow between 1 and 3 percent during the first three
months of 2017, as the Alberta economy improves.
"For the first quarter of 2017 we expect strong traffic and
revenue growth to continue," Saretsky told analysts.
Load factor, which measures how effectively the airline
filled seats, rose to 80.2 percent in the fourth quarter, from
78.4 percent a year earlier.
The rising costs of jet fuel remains a headwind in 2017,
with WestJet expecting a price increase in the first quarter of
approximately 36 percent to 40 percent.
WestJet shares were down 0.3 percent, while Canada's main
stock index was up 0.2 percent.
Excluding fuel and employee profit sharing, cost per
available seat mile (CASM) are expected to be up 1.5 percent to
2 percent year-over-year.
Saretsky could also not give more details about the
carrier's plans to acquire new widebody aircraft.
Available seat mile (ASM), rose 11.2 percent in the fourth
quarter, while cost per available seat mile, a measure of how
much an airline spends to fly a passenger, fell 0.8 percent to
12.86 Canadian cents.
The company's net earnings fell to C$55.2 million ($41.80
million), or 47 Canadian cents per share, in the fourth quarter
ended Dec. 31, from C$63.4 million, or 51 Canadian cents per
share, a year earlier.
Analysts on average had expected a profit of 41 cents per
share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
Revenue rose 6.2 percent to C$1.02 billion, in line with
($1 = 1.3206 Canadian dollars)
(Reporting by Komal Khettry in Bengaluru; Editing by Denny
Thomas and Bernard Orr)