Spirit Is America’s Most Profitable Airline

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Although Spirit Airlines Inc. (NASDAQ: SAVE) is the U.S. airline most hated by its passengers, investors have little to complain about. Spirit boasts the highest profit margin of any U.S. carrier, and the trade-off is fine with the company’s management.

In response to our report a year ago that Spirit passengers generated three-times more complaints per 100,000 passengers than any other carrier, CEO Ben Baldanza responded that the number of complaints averages just one or two for every 100,000 passengers. He also noted:

[W]e know that the #1 thing that makes our customers happy is getting where they want to go for less.

Baldanza told us that Spirit will not add costs for things like Wi-Fi “just to reduce the complaints.”

Spirit’s profit margin is currently running at 11.7%, just ahead of number two in profitability, Alaska Air Group Inc. (NYSE: ALK), with a profit margin of 11.3%. But Spirit’s return on assets is about 40% higher than Alaska’s, at 15.9% compared with 9.8%. On the basis of return on investment, Alaska posts a return of 20.2%, compared with 19.8% for Spirit.

Among the three remaining legacy carriers, profit margins are far below Spirit’s. American Airlines Group Inc. (NASDAQ: AAL) performs best with a margin of 6.8%. United Continental Holdings Inc. (NYSE: UAL) and Delta Air Lines Co. (NYSE: DAL) both post profit margins of just 2.9%.

Of the other low-cost carriers we looked at, JetBlue Airways Corp. (NASDAQ: JBLU) has a profit margin of 6.9% and Southwest Airlines Co. (NYSE: LUV) posts a profit margin of 6.1%.

Spirit has the smallest market cap among these carriers at just $5.63 billion, while Delta’s is the largest at $38.35 billion. Spirit pays no dividend, and its stock price increase over the past 12 months is the lowest among the group at 27.73%. JetBlue’s share price has risen about 138% in the past 12 months, and Southwest’s has jumped about 80%.

Spirit is scheduled to report first-quarter earnings on Tuesday, and analysts have estimated earnings per share at $0.96 on revenues of $494.92 million. In the same quarter of last year, the airline posted earnings per share of $0.52 on revenues of $437.99 million.

For the 2015 fiscal year, the growth estimate for Spirit is 61%, compared with a growth rate of 43.6% for the industry and just 1.7% for the S&P 500.

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