Wednesday, October 17, 2007


Today's news is that the earnings improvement in the airline business continues. Today's good report by AMR followed the prior good numbers delivered by DAL and NWA. AMR's profits are up from 6 cents per share last year to 74 cents this year. Projections are for continued improvement even though the company is projecting higher fuel costs.

AMR has decided not to prebook all the middle seats. The idea is to provide space for those who might be hit by canceled flights. In other words, AMR will voluntarily shrink its capacity. This action will lead to further price increases and an improvement in the travel experience of the passengers. In the meantime, purely domestic carriers, such as Southwest Airlines are getting hit especially hard by higher fuel prices. Thus, LUV will lead a series of fare increases. The average fare is still 11% below the 2000 peak. Adjusted for inflation, fares are 24% below the prior peak. With continued growth in demand, you can expect significant fare increases over the coming years. International carriers, such as CAL, have already raised ticket prices on long flights to offset higher fuel. International carriers have used contract carriers to go toe to toe with domestic carriers. They are able to match price while providing continuing service to other destinations and while offering better perks such as airport clubs and frequent flier programs. Last week, AMR lead a round of fare increases on non domestic flights and this week LUV is the leader on the next round of bumps.

Today, analysts have used the numbers reported by AMR, DAL and NWA to adjust their CAL estimates. The biggest adjustment came from the most positive analyst at Credit Suisse. The result is a penny lower consensus of $2.17 and a reduction for 2008 to just below $5. The reduction to next year is part of the "game" of letting this improving industry build on its track record of beating analyst estimates. In an earlier report I detailed the high average percentage "beat" by CAL.

Over at Legg Mason, Bill Miller continues to manage a few billion dollars well. One of his funds is better has an allocation of better than 7% in airline stocks. He owns all the majors with the exception of CAL. As you know, I believe getting the sector right is 90% of stock market performance. I am confident that Bill's fund will do well.


The Great Wall of China was built to keep out the bad guys. The Berlin Wall was built to keep in the good guys. The proposed Mexican Wall will be to keep out the good guys. Only the Great Wall was constructed with common sense in mind but the world has changed just a little over the centuries. Thousands of daily airline flights "over the top of the wall" make today's fence the least wise of all.


A mad rush is on to develop a new electronic fence. Boeing will report results in a few weeks. The push is to develop a new border security plan before the final compromise budget bills are passed by the congress. It is estimated that this electronic fence will cost about 8 billion bucks, double what has been budgeted for a standard fence that would not cover the entire border. I expect the final version to ultimately cost 6 or more times as much but what is a few billion to the federal government?

Mark my words, Congress knows that with public approval ratings hitting near or in the single digits, the pressure is on congress to pass all 12 of the appropriations bills. Because the must do something about the AMT, I expect that they will be willing to compromise with Bush to pass significant measures.

One of the potential "big wins" will be a last minute compromise on immigration reform. It seems like a long shot now but something big is coming down the pike. The fiscal year began on October 1 and even now Charlie Rangel, John Dingle and others are dragging their feet while the bureaucrats who report to Hank Paulson are engaged daily in negotiations with the staffs of congressional leaders.

FENCES MIGHT FALL! The Mexican Wall might be good news in the sense that we sometimes must swallow "silly pills" to get the good stuff done. As you know, the compromise I like is the joining the proposed 10/25% flat tax with a 50/50 cent carbon/gasoline tax.

Congress has the option of leaving town as a "do nothing congress" with their tails between their legs or as the congress that saved the world from global warming, the congress that save the middle class from the evil AMT and, perhaps even the congress that saved the nation from the horrors of Mexican workers and terrorist sneaking across the border.

No matter what the outcome in congress and no matter the current negative focus of the media, the world economy is on a roll that will pick up the pace in the coming year. IN CASE YOU HAVE NOT HEARD, WAGES HAVE GROWN AT BETTER THAN 8% OVER THE PAST TWO YEARS WHILE UNEMPLOYMENT IS RUNNING AT BELOW 5%.

When talk of Jimmy Carter days surfaced on Fox TV, Brit Hume dryly asked if Jimmy Carter was the President who left us with mortgage rates of 21%, inflation rates of 14% and unemployment rates of 9%? When the interviewer asked Mr. Carter what he would have done differently he said he would have sent another helicopter into Iran during the hostage crisis. Folks, by next summer, the majority of Americans will have begun to recognize that "times are good". The change in sentiment will give stock PE ratios a boost.