Southwest Air Lines Posts Profit Despite Weak September

Southwest Airlines Co. (NYSE: LUV) this morning reported an in-line profit in the third quarter, boosted in part to fewer negative fuel-hedging impacts.

The Dallas-based company posted adjusted earnings per share (EPS) of $0.13 on revenues of $4.31 billion. In the same period a year ago, the company reported EPS of $0.15 on revenues of $4.31 billion. Third-quarter results also compare to the Thomson Reuters consensus estimates for EPS of $0.13 and $4.36 billion in revenues.

The company's chairman and CEO said:

Our third quarter 2012 passenger revenues, unit revenues, and load factor were all third-quarter records and meaningful accomplishments; however, we need sustained revenue momentum to achieve our return on invested capital target. And, that is a priority. While in line with the domestic industry, our third quarter 2012 year-over-year unit revenue growth was more sluggish than planned due to weaker demand, particularly in September.

Average passenger revenue per available seat mile crept up 1%. Traffic diminished by 0.6%, while capacity shrank by 0.7%. Load factor ticked up to 82.1% from 82%. The CEO added:

Crude oil and jet fuel prices have soared over the last several months, and our fourth quarter 2012 economic fuel costs are expected to hit an all-time high.

The consensus analyst estimate for the current quarter calls for marginal EPS and revenue growth. Full-year EPS are expected come to $5.06, which would be about 27% higher than in the previous year, while revenue will be up almost 10% to $17.20 billion.

Shares are down about 1.3% in premarket trading to $8.83. The 52-week range is $7.37 to $10.05 and the mean price target is $11.04.

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