The FINANCIAL -- Southwest Airlines Co. on April 26 reported its first quarter 2018 results:
Net income of $463 million, net margin1 of 9.4 percent, and record first quarter earnings per diluted share of $.79
Operating income of $616 million and operating margin2 of 12.5 percent
Excluding special items3, net income of $438 million, net margin4 of 8.9 percent, and earnings per diluted share of $.75
Excluding special items, operating income of $584 million and operating margin5 of 11.8 percent
Operating cash flow of $1.0 billion and free cash flow3 of $708 million
Returned $648 million to Shareholders through a combination of share repurchases and dividends
Return on invested capital (ROIC)3 pre-tax of 27.1 percent for the 12 months ended March 31, 2018, or 20.8 percent on an after-tax basis
Revised Boeing firm order delivery schedule by exercising 40 737 MAX 8 options, adding 10 firm orders in each year 2019 through 2022, to support future fleet modernization
Gary C. Kelly, Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer, stated, "It remains a somber time for the Southwest Family following the Flight 1380 accident, and our thoughts and prayers continue to be with the Riordan family, and all of our Customers on the flight. I want to extend my immense gratitude for the compassion and support shown by our Employees, Customers, and airline peers. We continue to cooperate with the National Transportation Safety Board's thorough investigation to understand the cause of the accident. We will never compromise the Safety of our Customers and Employees. It is our highest priority—today and always.
"With regard to our first quarter performance, our strong profits are a solid start to the year, and our margins are among the top in the industry. Year-over-year growth in operating revenues kept pace with our capacity growth, and costs per available seat mile were also comparable with first quarter last year. With the reduction in the statutory federal income tax rate, our first quarter net income increased significantly, resulting in meaningful year-over-year net margin expansion. Our balance sheet and cash flows remained strong in first quarter, which enabled continued investment in fleet modernization, facilities, and technology; allowed the early funding of 2017 profitsharing of $543 million last month for our Employees; and provided $648 million of share buybacks and dividends for our Shareholders. We accrued another $102 million in profitsharing during first quarter 2018 for the benefit of our Employees. We are encouraged by our first quarter results, and our goal for the year is to expand net income and net margin, excluding special items.
"We continue to expect to begin selling tickets in 2018 for service to Hawaii, and today we announce our intent to begin service to four Hawaiian airports: Honolulu International Airport, Lihue Airport, Kona International Airport at Keahole, and Kahului Airport. Additionally, we entered into an agreement with Alaska Airlines to lease 12 slots at New York's LaGuardia Airport and 8 slots at Washington Reagan National Airport. These opportunities complement our network and fit within our existing 2018 growth plans, with available seat miles (ASMs) expected to increase in the low five percent range, year-over-year."
Revenue Results and Outlook
The Company's first quarter 2018 total operating revenues increased 1.9 percent, year-over-year, to a first quarter record $4.9 billion, driven largely by first quarter record passenger revenues of $4.6 billion. First quarter operating revenue per available seat mile (RASM, or unit revenues) was comparable with first quarter last year. Strong travel demand resulted in a first quarter record load factor of 81.5 percent. Passenger revenue yield decreased 2.8 percent, year-over-year, primarily due to the competitive yield environment and the impact from operating a sub-optimal flight schedule as a result of a temporarily reduced fleet size due to the retirement of the Boeing 737-300 Classic fleet last year. The Company expects its sub-optimal flight schedule to continue to pressure yields in second quarter. Based on current bookings and revenue trends, the Company expects second quarter 2018 RASM to decrease in the one to three percent range, compared with second quarter 2017 RASM of 14.27 cents, as recast. Approximately one to two points of this estimated decrease is attributable to recent softness in bookings following the Flight 1380 accident.
Effective January 1, 2018, the Company adopted the Accounting Standards Update (ASU) No. 2014-09, Revenue from Contracts with Customers, and is using the full retrospective method of adoption allowed by the standard. As such, results for the three months ended March 31, 2017 have been recast under the new standard in order to be comparable with current period results in the accompanying unaudited Condensed Consolidated Statement of Income.
Cost Performance and Outlook
First quarter 2018 total operating expenses increased 1.9 percent to $4.3 billion. Total operating expenses per available seat mile (CASM, or unit costs) increased 0.1 percent, as compared with first quarter 2017. Excluding special items in both periods, first quarter 2018 total operating expenses increased 1.9 percent to $4.4 billion, or 0.1 percent on a unit basis, year-over-year.
Effective January 1, 2018, the Company early adopted ASU No. 2017-12, Targeted Improvements to Accounting for Hedging Activities. The new standard eliminated ineffectiveness for all derivatives designated in a hedge for accounting purposes, as well as changed the Company's classification of premium expense associated with fuel hedges from Other (gains) and losses, net, to Fuel and oil expense within the unaudited Condensed Consolidated Statement of Income. As such, the classification of premium expense for the three months ended March 31, 2017, has been recast under the new standard in order to be comparable with current period results. First quarter 2018 economic fuel costs3 were $2.09 per gallon, including $.07 per gallon in premium expense and $.05 per gallon in favorable cash settlements from fuel derivative contracts, compared with $2.03 per gallon in first quarter 2017, which included $.07 per gallon in premium expense and $.29 per gallon in unfavorable cash settlements from fuel derivative contracts. First quarter 2018 ASMs per gallon, or fuel efficiency, improved 1.3 percent year-over-year, driven primarily by the retirement of the Classic aircraft and the addition of the more fuel-efficient 737 MAX 8 aircraft.
Based on the Company's existing fuel derivative contracts and market prices as of April 20, 2018, second quarter 2018 economic fuel costs are estimated to be approximately $2.20 per gallon6, including $.06 per gallon in premium expense and an estimated $.07 per gallon in favorable cash settlements from fuel derivative contracts, compared with $1.99 per gallon in second quarter 2017, as recast, which included $.06 per gallon in premium expense and $.32 per gallon in unfavorable cash settlements from fuel derivative contracts. As of April 20, 2018, the fair market value of the Company's fuel derivative contracts for the remainder of 2018 was a net asset of approximately $158 million, and the fair market value of the hedge portfolio settling in 2019 and beyond was a net asset of approximately $308 million, according to Southwest Airlines.
Excluding fuel and oil expense and special items in both periods, first quarter 2018 operating expenses increased 1.5 percent, as compared with first quarter 2017. First quarter 2018 profitsharing expense was $102 million, as compared with $99 million in first quarter 2017. Excluding fuel and oil expense, profitsharing expense, and special items, first quarter 2018 operating expenses increased 1.4 percent, and declined 0.3 percent on a unit basis, year-over-year.
Earlier this month, the Company reached an Agreement in Principle (AIP) with the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association (AMFA) that represents the Company's Mechanics and Related Employees.
Based on current cost trends, the Company estimates second quarter 2018 CASM, excluding fuel and oil expense and profitsharing expense, to increase in the one to two percent range, compared with second quarter 2017's 8.17 cents, as recast, which excluded fuel and oil expense, profitsharing expense, and special items. This second quarter 2018 year-over-year increase includes the current estimated impact of the AIP with AMFA, as well as a preliminary cost estimate related to the Flight 1380 accident. Due primarily to increases in salaries, wages, and benefits, which includes the impact of the AIP with AMFA, the Company now estimates annual 2018 CASM, excluding fuel and oil expense and profitsharing expense, to be comparable with annual 2017's 8.47 cents, as recast, which excluded fuel and oil expense, profitsharing expense, and special items.
First Quarter Results
First quarter 2018 operating income was $616 million, compared with $606 million in first quarter 2017. Excluding special items, first quarter 2018 operating income was $584 million, compared with $574 million in first quarter 2017.
Other expenses in first quarter 2018 were $14 million, compared with $74 million in first quarter 2017. The $60 million difference resulted primarily from $4 million in other losses recognized in first quarter 2018, compared with $63 million in first quarter 2017. In first quarter 2017, these losses included ineffectiveness and unrealized mark-to-market amounts associated with a portion of the Company's fuel hedge portfolio, which are special items. Excluding these special items related to fuel hedging, other losses were $4 million in first quarter 2018, compared with other gains of $2 million in first quarter 2017. Net interest expense in first quarter 2018 was $10 million, compared with $11 million in first quarter 2017.
First quarter 2018 net income was $463 million, or a first quarter record $.79 per diluted share, compared with first quarter 2017 net income of $339 million, or $.55 per diluted share. Excluding special items, first quarter 2018 net income was $438 million, or $.75 per diluted share, compared with first quarter 2017 net income of $359 million, or $.58 per diluted share, and compared with First Call first quarter 2018 consensus estimate of $.74 per diluted share.
Liquidity and Capital Deployment
As of March 31, 2018, the Company had approximately $3.2 billion in cash and short-term investments, and a fully available unsecured revolving credit line of $1 billion. Net cash provided by operations during first quarter 2018 was $1.0 billion, capital expenditures were $409 million, and free cash flow was $708 million. The Company repaid $82 million in debt and capital lease obligations during first quarter 2018, and expects to repay approximately $254 million in debt and capital lease obligations during the remainder of 2018.
During first quarter 2018, the Company returned $648 million to its Shareholders through the repurchase of $500 million in common stock and the payment of $148 million in dividends. The Company launched and completed a $500 million accelerated share repurchase (ASR) program during first quarter, which equated to approximately 8.72 million shares repurchased. During first quarter 2018, the Company also received approximately 0.74 million shares, which remained pursuant to a $250 million fourth quarter 2017 ASR program. The Company has $850 million remaining under its May 2017 $2.0 billion share repurchase authorization.
Due to revisions to its future fleet order book with Boeing, the Company now estimates its 2018 capital expenditures to be in the $2.0 to $2.1 billion range.
Fleet and Capacity
The Company ended first quarter with 717 aircraft in its fleet. This reflects the first quarter delivery of nine new Boeing 737-800 aircraft, one new Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft, and one pre-owned Boeing 737-700 aircraft. Last month, the Company revised its future firm order delivery schedule with Boeing to support future fleet modernization. The Company exercised 40 737 MAX 8 options which adds 10 additional firm orders in each year 2019 through 2022. Additionally, five 737 MAX 8 firm orders were shifted from 2019 into fourth quarter 2018, and three pre-owned 737-700 aircraft previously scheduled for delivery in 2018 were replaced with three 737 MAX 8 aircraft to be delivered in 2019. Including the Company's revision made to its firm order schedule executed in December 2017, and in recognition of the expected significant savings from tax reform, the Company has exercised a total of 80 options with Boeing to further invest in its fleet to support future growth opportunities and fleet modernization. The Company expects to end 2018 with 752 aircraft in its fleet based on the current aircraft delivery schedule.
The Company continues to expect its 2018 year-over-year ASM growth to be in the low five percent range, with second quarter 2018 year-over-year ASM growth in the 3.5 to 4 percent range and second half 2018 year-over-year ASM growth in the low seven percent range.