Southwest Airlines Co. today reported its third quarter 2018 results:
• Record third quarter net income of $615 million
• Net income of $614 million, excluding special items
• Record third quarter earnings per diluted share of $1.08
• Operating income of $798 million, or $796 million, excluding special items
• Operating margin2 of 14.3 percent, and net margin3 of 11.0 percent
• Operating cash flow of $1.3 billion, and free cash flow1 of $817 million
• Returned $591 million to Shareholders through a combination of share repurchases and dividends
• Return on invested capital (ROIC)1 pre-tax of 23.4 percent for the 12 months ended September 30, 2018, or 18.1 percent on an after-tax basis
Gary C. Kelly, Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer, stated, “I want to congratulate our Employees on an excellent third quarter 2018 performance, resulting in record third quarter earnings per diluted share. The significant increase in our third quarter 2018 earnings per diluted share was driven by record third quarter operating revenues, lower federal income taxes, and a 4.8 percent year-over-year reduction in share count. Despite higher jet fuel prices and other cost pressures, we grew our third quarter 2018 net margin, year-over-year, which is a notable accomplishment.
“I am grateful to our People for their hard work and resilience, as we continue to consistently deliver stellar margins and returns. With these results, we accrued an additional $135 million in profit-sharing for the benefit of our Employees and provided $591 million of share buybacks and dividends for our Shareholders.
“As we finish the year, our revenue momentum has continued into fourth quarter 2018, thus far. Unit revenue trends are stable and have recovered nicely from first half 2018. We are particularly pleased with the performance of our new revenue management tools. With our new reservation system in place since last year, we have more capabilities and are well-positioned to drive revenue growth. We expect $80 million to $90 million of year-over-year improvement in fourth quarter 2018 pre-tax results from these enhanced capabilities, which is in line with our annual 2018 pre-tax goal of $200 million.
“On the cost side, our third quarter 2018 unit cost performance was in line with our expectations. Our fuel hedge portfolio mitigated a significant portion of market jet fuel price increases, and we are pleased with the fuel hedge in place for both fourth quarter 2018 and annual 2019. Based on current trends, we continue to expect modest year-over-year inflation in our annual 2018 unit costs, excluding fuel and oil expense and profit-sharing expense.
“Based on our second half 2018 revenue trends, we are well-positioned for year-over-year unit revenue growth in 2019, with easier year-over-year comparisons in first half. We also will continue to experience year-over-year unit cost inflation in 2019, excluding fuel and oil expense and profit-sharing expense, of at least three percent, as we continue investing in and deploying new operations, technology, and airport infrastructure to support future growth. With the 2017 retirement of our Boeing 737-300 Classic fleet, launch of the 737 MAX, and implementation of our new reservation system, we continue with our efforts to modernize our fleet, optimize our network, and pursue additional revenue opportunities. Given our healthy revenue outlook, and despite expected cost increases, our 2019 goal is to expand margins year-over-year. We are refocusing our efforts to control costs and drive efficiency, and, as ever, we remain steadfast in our efforts to produce industry-leading margins and superior returns in excess of our cost of capital.
“For next year, Hawaii is our expansion focus, and we continue to expect 2019 available seat miles (ASMs, or capacity) to increase no more than five percent, year-over-year.”