Monthly Archives: January 2009

Southwest Airlines’ Stock Goes Up, Goes Back Down


I’ve had a couple of emails this morning from readers wondering why Southwest Airlines’ shares, which rose yesterday on the news that the airline was essentially shutting down the growth faucets, are now moving in the opposite direction today.

As of this posting, shares of Southwest have lost 17% for the day, now trading around 8.10 a share, down from their close yesterday of 9.81.

So what gives?

Simple. The market reacted positively yesterday to the headline news: growth being curbed.

Today, investors have had more time to think about the rest of the news the airline gave us yesterday. And, investors have also had the benefit of a number of airline analyst research notes on the results.

From Gary Chase, analyst with Barclays:

LUV results were better than we expected, largely on better passenger revenue performance. Non-fuel costs came in a touch better, but remain under pressure. We expect LUV will benefit from industry capacity reductions and lower fuel prices, but don’t see nearly as compelling an opportunity in LUV shares as we see in other names…….2009 estimate is reduced from $0.65 to $0.45, principally on lower passenger revenue assumptions.We’ve been modeling RASM out-performance for LUV relative to other LFCs and the industry at-large given its revenue initiatives, but think it will be increasingly difficult for the company to outperform the industry to that extent given economic slowing.”

From Kevin Crissey, UBS Securities:

…”Our view on the stock

We view LUV’s valuation as getting stretched. It is trading at we view as an ‘okay’ 6x 2009 EV/EBITDAR but a robust 16x our 2009 EPS estimate. With growth non-existent, unit costs rising, economic fuel prices above peers and the balance sheet okay but less impressive, we question whether there is upside potential to valuation from here. We are cautious on LUV and rate it Neutral…”

From Ray Neidl, Calyon Securities:

“We believe investors should take profit,” Neidl said in a research note this morning as the firm dropped its target price on the shares from $8 to $7. The firm also cuts its rating on the stock from underperform to “sell.”

When was the last time we saw a “sell” rating on shares of Southwest?

Southwest Airlines: No More Growth


Southwest Airlines was the third major airline to report earnings this quarter, as the airline rolled out their results this morning.

The verdict?

The airline posted its second quarterly loss in a row.

The reason? Just as we saw with American and United yesterday — getting caught on the wrong side of the hedges. Fuel hedges that is.

Including special items, the airline posted a loss of $56 million or $0.08 per share. Last year the airline posted a profit of $111 million or $0.15 a share. Excluding special items, the airline posted a profit of $61 million or $0.08 a share. This compares to last year when the airline posted a profit of $87 million or $0.12 a share.

For the year, the airline posted net income of $178 million. This compares to 2007, when the airline posted net profit of $645 million or $0.84 a share. Excluding special items, full year 2008 net income was $294 million or $0.40 per diluted share, compared to $471 million, or $0.61 per share in 2007.

While these numbers would not look like numbers that would push shares higher — shares in the airline are now up about 17% on the day. Why?

The quarterly numbers are not what is pushing the shares higher.

The fact that CEO Gary Kelly came out and said that growth at the airline has been “suspended indefinitely” is the reason the shares are up.

I know, it’s convoluted.

But in the world of Wall Street — the biggest fear was that Southwest would NOT make a serious attempt to cut back on growth. Since the airline now seems determined to do so — that is seen as a positive. It is anticipated that fewer ASMs will result in higher loads and better revenues in 2009.

“I definitely want Southwest Airlinesto grow,” CEO Gary Kelly said on the airline’s conference call today. “I believe we will be able to grow, but that is certainly a secondary objective in this kind of an economic environment.”

The airline has now reduced its 2010 Boeing delivery schedule of new aircraft down to 10. The airline previously had 16 aircraft on firm order and six options for the year.

Southwest ended December with 537 aircraft. It expects to end 2009 with 535 — as lease expirations and retirements cancel out the 13 new Boeing 737-700s now expected to be delivered during the year.

Here’s Why AMR Shares Sank Today…


The future does not bode well on the cost side.

We wrote earlier today that while we thought United Airline’s numbers today were worse at first blush, that investors were punishing shares of AMR much more severely.

Here’s why.

The airline gave what could at best be called less than encouraging cost guidance for 2009.

Analysts Jamie Baker and Mark Streeter with JP Morgan issued a note today concerning the results in which they said,

Unlike UAUA, We’re Discouraged By AMR Cost Guidance – Pension expense appears to lie at the heart of what we consider to be discouraging 2009 ex-fuel cost guidance from AMR, a phenomenon that may have implications for CAL & DAL, though not LCC or JBLU. Specifically, AMR is guiding to a 2009, consolidated ex-fuel CASM increase of 7.6%, materially higher than our ambitious +4.1% forecast and representing over an untaxed dollar in negative earnings variance – holding other inputs constant. On the fuel side, Q109 $2.04/gallon all-in guidance is consistent with our $2.10, as is AMR’s full-year $2.06 all-in (identical to our forecast).”

And while United Airlines has garnered the most negative publicity over the last month or so concerning the high cost of its ill-placed fourth quarter fuel hedges, AMR got hit in the fourth quarter as well.

As Jamie explained,

“Similar to UAUA’s release this morning (and to what we expect to hear from those who have yet to report), AMR’s liquidity was clearly hurt by incremental cash collateral deposits posted with fuel hedging counterparties. AMR ended 4Q08 with an unrestricted cash balance of $3.1 billion, compared to $4.6 billion as of 3Q08. The implied $1.5 billion sequential net cash burn was driven by the company’s cash collateral postings on under-water fuel hedges ($575 million in cash collateral with counterparties at the end of 4Q08), debt and capital lease principal payments, capital expenditures, and changes in working capital (exact figures for debt amortization, capex, and change in working capital were not disclosed in the press release). At the end of 3Q08, AMR held $240 million in cash deposits from fuel hedge counterparties, but with falling oil prices during 4Q08, the company saw a reversal of approximately $815 million, resulting in the $575 million figure mentioned above. The worse than expected pension cost guidance is worth monitoring. Nevertheless, we expect AMR’s liquidity profile to improve significantly in 2009 as under-water hedges roll-off and the airline is able to benefit from much lower y/y oil prices.”

Oil Price Spike, Earnings Sends Shares of Many Airlines Down


Rough day on Wall Street for many airline stocks today — with two big factors pushing down shares. One — March futures options opened today for crude oil. And off they went.

Oil closed up almost $3 to 43.55/barrel today.

But it wasn’t because of a surprise EIA energy supply report. That report, which is normally issued on Wednesday, won’t be issued until tomorrow — because of Martin Luther King Jr.’s Monday holiday observance.

Another factor pushing down shares were the earnings reports for American Airlines and United Airlines.

Shares of American are being hammered, with shares now trading down about 25% for the day. Shares are hovering around 7.85.

Shares of United, which actually posted what I thought were the more negative numbers for the quarter, are down a little over 7% as of this posting, with shares running around 10.78.

But other stocks are taking the day’s news hard as well. As of this posting, shares of JetBlue are down 12%, trading at $6.25, while shares of Delta are down 12%, trading at 9.73.

Shares of Continental are not having a good day either, as shares here are down 13% as of this posting, trading at 16.98.

American Airlines and United Spill the Fourth Quarter Beans


It’s that time once again dear friends. That time when we get the straight scoop on just how bad, or how good, the previous quarter was for our friends, The Things With Wings.

This morning both AMR, parent of American Airlines, and UAL Corp., parent of United Airlines, reported their fourth quarter 2008 earnings.

Top line assessment? Both airlines reported numbers that came in comfortably within previously anticipated analyst forecasts.

That does not mean, however, that the numbers were overly pleasant to digest.

Especially in the case of United, which reported a net loss of $1.3 billion or $9.91, compared with a loss of $53 million or $0.47 a share the previous year. Excluding non-cash, net mark-to- market hedge losses and certain accounting charges, the airline reported a pre-tax loss of $547 million for the quarter. This figure compares to an adjusted pre-tax loss of $105 million in the fourth quarter of 2007.

A huge contributing factor here was the fact the airline got caught on the wrong side of some very expensive hedge positions during the fourth quarter. The effect of this wrong-way bet was clearly seen in the sharp drop in the airline’s cash balance for the quarter.

At the end of the quarter, United was sitting on only $2 billion in unrestricted cash, a restricted cash balance of $272 million, and $965 million in cash deposits held by its fuel hedge counterparties. The airline saw $989 million in cash go out the door during the fourth quarter in operating cash flow and it posted a negative $1.1 billion in free cash flow during the quarter.

Excluding one-time items, the airline said it lost $4.22 per share compared with Wall Street analyst consensus forecast of $4.42.

In the case of American, the airline reported a loss of $340 million or $0.77 a share, excluding special items. This performance was more or less in line with expectations as well.

A year ago the airline reported a loss of $184 million or $0.74 a share, without special items.

The full American Airlines’ release has yet to hit the wires.

We’ll also learn more about the results from both airlines later today, after their respective earnings calls.

In the meantime, go have some more coffee.

Coast Guard Video of US Airways’ Hudson Experience

Click here to see a great Coast Guard video of the US Airways flight touching down in the Hudson, the speedy evacuation and the equally speedy first tug boat arriving to help.


The plane touches down on the water at about 2:02 into the tape. She will be coming in on the left hand side of the screen.

It’s amazing how fast everyone got out and onto the wings and how fast help arrived.

Another “Good News, Bad News” Kind of Day On Wall Street: Crude Drops While Stocks Do the Same


As of this posting, airline stocks are mixed in trading today as the market has turned downward as a result of more bad banking news.

Why anyone in the market would think that all the bad news about banks was already “out there” is beyond me.

Today Citibank and Bank of America are the two hot topics du jour.

But for the airlines — there is a bit of very good news.

As more estimates of energy demand continue to trickle in — and as the numbers continue to show a growing drop in that demand being forecast — the price of crude oil continues to drop.

As of this posting the price of crude is trading at around 34.64/barrel. Can you believe it? Yep, it’s true. Happy days are here again folks!

Well, maybe not. But in terms of airline economics — this is very good news.

Biggest loser as for the airline sector as of this posting is Mesa Air Group. The stock is down about 11% for the day as we post this — hovering around 18 cents and change.

US Airways’ Captain of Flight 1549


A number of news sources are reporting tonight that Chesley B. “Sully” Sullenberger, III, was Captain of the US Airways’ flight that was successfully ditched today in the Hudson River.

It seems that Captain Sullenberger has a website. Actually the website is for his consulting business — Safety Reliability Methods, Inc.

It would appear the guy knows his stuff.

Airbus Ditch Button

Okay, if you are a pilot, you already know this.

But I didn’t know that the Airbus aircraft apparently have a “ditch” button in the cockpit that automatically closes any vent, air outlet, opening, whatever, to the outside, in preparation for a potential water landing.

Just listening to Greg Fieth, former NTSB investigator, on NBC talking about how this works.

Pretty interesting. I was not aware of this. Clearly today that might have been helpful, as the aircraft stayed above water long enough for everyone to get off.

All you Boeing fans out there — do they have something similar on Boeing aircraft?