was a very good year for JetBlue," said Dave Barger, JetBlue's President and Chief Executive Officer.
"We further solidified our position as New York's Hometown Airlineâą while continuing to pursue profitable growth opportunities in Boston and the Caribbean & Latin America, resulting in record revenue performance. These results reflect the hard work and dedication of our 14,000 crewmembers who deliver exceptional service to our customers every day."
JetBlue reported record fourth quarter operating revenues of $1.2 billion despite Hurricane Sandy, which reduced revenue by an estimated $45 million. Revenue passenger miles for the fourth quarter increased 4.3% to 8.1 billion on a capacity increase of 4.8%, resulting in a fourth quarter load factor of 81.9%, a decrease of 0.3 points year over year.
Yield per passenger mile in the fourth quarter was 13.47 cents, up 0.2% compared to the fourth quarter of 2011. Passenger revenue per available seat mile (PRASM) for the fourth quarter 2012 decreased 0.2% year over year to 11.03 cents and operating revenue per available seat mile (RASM) decreased 0.5% year over year to 12.09 cents.
"While we saw a significant decline in demand for air travel following Hurricane Sandy, we are encouraged by more robust demand trends during the December holiday travel period," said Robin Hayes, JetBlue's Chief Commercial Officer. "We continue to be pleased with the strong performance of our Boston business-oriented markets â an area of significant focus for JetBlue."
Operating expenses for the quarter increased 8.3%, or $87 million, over the prior year period. JetBlue's operating expense per available seat mile (CASM) for the fourth quarter increased 3.3% year over year to 11.65 cents. Excluding fuel, CASM increased 4.8% to 7.17 cents.
Over the course of 2012, JetBlue improved its return on invested capital (ROIC) by approximately one percentage point to 4.8%. "We improved ROIC through a combination of margin expansion and prudent balance sheet management," said Mark Powers, JetBlue's Chief Financial Officer. "Nonetheless, we recognize there is still significant work to be done to continue improving shareholder returns. We remain committed to improving ROIC and believe we are on track to do so in 2013."
Fuel Expense and Hedging
JetBlue continued to hedge fuel to manage price volatility. Specifically, during the fourth quarter JetBlue hedged approximately 27% of its fuel consumption and managed approximately 20% of its fuel consumption using fixed forward price agreements (FFPs), resulting in a realized fuel price of $3.20 per gallon, a 1% increase over fourth quarter 2011 realized fuel price of $3.15.
JetBlue has managed approximately 18% of its first quarter projected fuel requirements using a combination of FFPs and collars. Based on the fuel curve as of January 25th, JetBlue expects an average price per gallon of fuel, including the impact of hedges, FFPs and fuel taxes, of $3.23 in the first quarter.
Balance Sheet Update
JetBlue ended the fourth quarter with approximately $731 million in unrestricted cash and short term investments. During the quarter, JetBlue increased its line of credit with Morgan Stanley to $200 million. In addition, JetBlue maintains a $125 million corporate purchasing line with American Express for jet fuel purchases.
During the fourth quarter, JetBlue prepaid approximately $50 million of debt. JetBlue recorded a $3 million loss in non-operating income during the quarter in connection with this prepayment. In addition, JetBlue prepaid $200 million related to 2013 aircraft deliveries and pre-delivery deposits for future aircraft deliveries in exchange for favorable pricing terms.
Since December 31, 2011, JetBlue has increased the number of unencumbered Airbus A320 aircraft from one to 11 and decreased its total debt balance by approximately $285 million. "We continue to actively manage our total debt balance and seek to optimize the liquidity on our balance sheet, which we believe will help improve ROIC," said Mr. Powers.
First Quarter and Full Year Outlook
For the first quarter of 2013, CASM is expected to increase between 1.0% and 3.0% over the year-ago period. Excluding fuel and profit sharing, CASM in the first quarter is expected to increase between 2.0% and 4.0% year over year.
CASM for the full year is expected to increase between 1.5% and 3.5% over full year 2012. Excluding fuel and profit sharing, CASM in 2013 is expected to increase between 1.0% and 3.0% year over year.
Capacity is expected to increase between 5.5% and 7.5% in the first quarter and for the full year.