Monday August 06, 2012
by Tom Bishop, editor BI Research
I was surprised to notice that the airline industry had percolated up to the #3 spot of the 99 industries that Value Line ranks. And over at Investor’s Business Daily the group is ranked 12th out of the 197 groups it follows.
So, with the industry in favor now, I am recommending Spirit Airlines (SAVE), a low-fare carrier serving the U.S., Latin America and the Caribbean.
Spirit Airlines, which went public in May 2011, allows customers to save money on air travel by offering ultra-low base fares with a range of optional services for a fee, enabling customers the freedom to choose only the extras they value.
Spirit's modern fleet, configuration and other innovations enable Spirit to burn less fuel per seat than competitors, making it one of the most environmentally-friendly U.S. carriers.
Its all-Airbus fleet of forty A319 and A320 aircraft currently operates more than 190 daily flights to over 50 destinations in the United States, Carribean, Mexico, Central America and northwestern South America.
In short, Spirit makes money by saving its customers money. It’s committed to a low cost structure that enabled it to post the highest profit margins in the industry in 2011.
For the trailing twelve months through March 31, 2012, Spirit’s cost per available seat mile (CASM) was 10.03 cents, 8% better than Southwest, 54% better than Delta and 67% better than American Airlines (which competes with Spirit in 58% of its network).
The company lowers its CASM by getting more seats in each plane, having a higher load factor and flying its planes more hours per day (12.7) than the competition.
It also has a newer, more modern fleet of aircraft with an average age of 4.4 years which keeps fuel consumption and maintenance expenses low. Also as a young airline it is not strangled by the onerous pension expenses that the legacy airlines like Delta and American have to cover.
Spirit looks for new markets to deploy its aircraft where it can lower fares at least 25% to stimulate demand to 200+ passengers daily each way and make at least its current margin.
Within these parameters the company has identified 400 markets it does not already fly where it can earn at least its normal margin, or better.
EBITDA margins of 25.7% led the industry in each of the past 5 years from 2007 to 2011. So you know what? it must be doing something right ... actually a lot right.
Spirit just posted a good Q2. Adjusted net income increased 35% to $35.3 million or $.49 a share vs. last year’s $.36. This beat the consensus by $.02. Meanwhile revenues increased 25.5% to $346.3 million beating the consensus of $343.
Importantly, Spirit’s operating margin increased by 1.5 points to 16.3% and its load factor has held pretty steady at about 85%. Spirit also has $415 million and no debt.
I have talked to Spirit and I am not concerned about the Oaktree sale of their final 9.4 million shares of a position they originally took around 2005. Oaktree is a distressed debt investment company that helped Spirit while it was floundering back then, ultimately helping it to reinvent itself as a low-priced airline.
Overall, Spirit runs its airline like a business with a keen eye to the bottom line. The average analyst’s 12-month stock price target price is $31. We rate the shares a buy at prices up to $24.50.
Learn more about this financial newsletter at Tom Bishop's BI Research.