Southwest Airlines exceeds estimates with a 3Q net profit of $205 million

Southwest Airlines (Dallas) reported third quarter 2010 net income of $205 million, or $.27 per diluted share, compared to a net loss of $16 million, or $.02 loss per diluted share, for third quarter 2009. Both years’ results included special items related to non-cash, mark-to-market, and other items associated with a portion of the Company’s fuel hedge portfolio. Excluding special items for both periods, third quarter 2010 net income was a third quarter Company record of $195 million, or $.26 per diluted share, compared to $31 million, or $.04 per diluted share, for third quarter 2009. This exceeded Thomson’s First Call mean estimate of $.25 per diluted share for third quarter 2010.

Third quarter 2010 unit costs, excluding special items, increased 7.1 percent from third quarter 2009, largely due to the 11.7 percent increase in economic fuel costs to $2.38 per gallon. Third quarter 2010 economic fuel costs included $56 million, or $0.15 per gallon, in unfavorable cash settlements for fuel derivative contracts. As of October 15th, the Company had derivative contracts in place for approximately 40 percent of its estimated fourth quarter 2010 fuel consumption at varying crude-equivalent prices up to approximately $95 per barrel; approximately 10 percent if market prices settle in the $95 to $120 per barrel range; and approximately 30 percent if market prices exceed $120 per barrel. Based on this fuel hedge position and market prices (as of October 15th), the Company estimates economic fuel costs, including fuel taxes, for fourth quarter 2010 will be in the $2.45 to $2.50 per gallon range.

For 2011, the Company has derivative contracts in place for approximately 65 percent of its estimated fuel consumption at varying crude-equivalent prices up to approximately $90 per barrel; approximately 55 percent if market prices settle in the $90 to $95 per barrel range; approximately 30 percent if market prices settle in the $95 to $105 per barrel range; and approximately 55 percent if market prices exceed $105 per barrel. Beyond 2011, the Company has coverage of approximately 60 percent of its estimated fuel consumption in 2012; approximately 50 percent in 2013; and approximately 45 percent in 2014, all at varying price levels. The total market value (as of October 15th) of the Company’s net fuel derivative contracts for the remainder of 2010 through 2014 reflects a net liability of approximately $90 million.

Excluding fuel and special items in both periods, third quarter 2010 unit costs increased 5.1 percent from third quarter 2009, which was better than anticipated primarily due to lower than expected advertising and Employee benefit costs. Excluding profitsharing and special items in both periods, third quarter 2010 nonfuel unit costs increased 2.5 percent compared to third quarter last year. Based on current cost trends, the Company expects its fourth quarter 2010 nonfuel unit costs to increase from fourth quarter last year.

On September 27th, Southwest Airlines announced it had entered into a definitive agreement to acquire all of the outstanding common stock of AirTran Holdings, Inc., the parent company of AirTran Airways (AirTran), for a combination of cash and Southwest Airlines’ common stock. The acquisition will significantly expand Southwest Airlines’ low-fare service to many more customers in many more domestic markets, creating hundreds of additional low-fare itineraries for the traveling public, more than what Southwest or AirTran could otherwise provide on a stand-alone basis, particularly in and out of Atlanta, Georgia. Moreover, the expansion of low fares should generate hundreds of millions in annual savings to consumers.

Based on an economic analysis by Campbell-Hill Aviation Group, LLP, Southwest Airlines’ more expansive low-fare service at Atlanta, alone, has the potential to stimulate over two million new passengers and over $200 million in consumer savings, annually. These savings would be created from the new low-fare competition that Southwest Airlines would be able to provide as a result of the acquisition, expanding the well-known “Southwest Effect’” of reducing fares and stimulating new passenger traffic wherever it flies.

The closing of the proposed acquisition is subject to the approval of AirTran stockholders, receipt of Department of Justice (DOJ) and certain other regulatory clearances, and fulfillment of customary closing conditions. The Company has met its required filing deadline with the DOJ in compliance with the terms of its agreement with AirTran and has begun the integration planning process.

The proposed transaction is expected to yield net annual synergies of more than $400 million by 2013. Excluding one-time acquisition and integration costs estimated to be between $300 million and $500 million, the transaction is also expected to be accretive to Southwest’s fully-diluted earnings per share in the first year following the close of the transaction, and strongly accretive, thereafter, upon full realization of the estimated net synergies. The Company currently expects to close the transaction in the first half of 2011.

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