Will All Airlines Follow Delta on Dividends and Stock Buybacks

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It was not that long ago that we were calling on major DJIA companies to lift their dividends in a CNBC interview. One sector we called on to begin dividend payments was the airline sector. While we assumed that United Continental Holdings Inc. (NYSE: UAL) would be the first to begin paying dividends, Delta Air Lines Inc. (NYSE: DAL) has jumped into the game of returning capital to shareholders.

Delta announced on Wednesday that it plans to create $5 billion in value for shareholders. In that plan, $1 billion will be returned to shareholders over the next three years and the airline declared a $0.06 per share common dividend as a result. Delta will also spend up to $500 million to repurchase its common stock.

Together, the dividend and buyback programs will return more than $1 billion of capital to shareholders over the next three years. The dividend yield is approximately 1.3% if you take the 3.3% gain to $18.68 on Wednesday.

Currently, Southwest Airlines Co. (NYSE: LUV) is the only airline that pays a dividend. Its yield is very small at 0.3%, but this may pressure Southwest to seek higher payouts as well.

Delta shares are up 3.3% at $18.68 and the stock hit a new multiyear high of $18.84 today. The $0.24 annualized payout compares to $2.64 in earnings per share expected from Thomson Reuters for earnings in 2013.