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SkyWest Inc., the biggest regional airline in the U.S., on Wednesday posted a second-quarter profit that was more than 10 times bigger than last year and more than twice as much as analysts expected.
Investors immediately showed their pleasure by driving SkyWest's stock skyward. At mid-morning, shares of the St. George-based parent of SkyWest Airlines and ExpressJet Airlines were up 25 percent on heavy volume. The stock closed Wednesday at $8.33 a share, up $1.53, or 23 percent, from Tuesday.
SkyWest earned $17 million, or 33 cents per share, in the quarter. A year ago, when SkyWest was weighed down by pilot shortages, costs associated with buying ExpressJet and other issues, net income was $1.6 million, or just 3 cents per share. Three months ago, the airline posted a loss of $682,000, or 1 cent per share, in the first quarter of this year.
Analysts surveyed by Thompson Reuters were looking for 33 cents a share. And during a conference call led by Brad Rich, SkyWest's president, and Mike Kraupp, chief financial officer, one investment expert was moved to praise the airline's latest financial performance.
"You guys, nice job this quarter. Nice turnaround," Michael Linenberg, with Deutsche Securities, said.
Another analyst, Duane Pfennigwerth with Evercore Partners, asked if SkyWest would resume purchases of its shares, which have dropped more than 50 percent in value since March. A reduction in the number of shares in circulation tends to increase their value.
Acknowledging that a stock buyback "is a big topic of conversation," Rich said SkyWest is evaluating its options. While he didn't explicitly say that SkyWest would restart purchases of its shares, he did note the company's cash position makes it possible. At the quarter's end, SkyWest had $646.5 million in cash and marketable securities on hand.
"I think that does position us to get back active in the repurchase environment," Rich said. "But I will just caution that is something that we just continue to evaluate based on market conditions."
The company pulled in operating revenue totaling $937.2 million, little changed from $933.7 million in the second quarter of 2011. However, subtracting out fuel and engine overhaul expenses, which SkyWest counts as revenue because they are the responsibility of Delta Air Lines and its other clients, revenue actually increased $17.3 million.
SkyWest's subsidiaries fly as contract operators for Delta, United Airlines and US Airways.
In the conference call, Rich outlined two reasons for the stronger earnings. The airline received higher incentive payments from its airline clients, and a cost-reduction program implemented last year was yielding solid results.
"The results are the results," he said. ``We are very pleased with the results for the quarter.''