Southwest Air boosts dividend, revises plane deliveries


Southwest Airlines Co on Wednesday announced a boost in its dividend and its share repurchase program and said it is changing some plane orders and deliveries.

Chief Executive Gary Kelly told the company's shareholder meeting that revenue trends were improving and second quarter performance was looking strong.

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"We saw some softness in March, more in April but see trends improving in the May-June time period," Kelly said during the shareholder meeting on Wednesday, which was broadcast over the Internet.

The traditional discount leader, Southwest is working harder to compete with newer carriers with a low-cost focus as well as legacy carriers that have restructured, such as Delta, which said last week that it would pay its first dividend in a decade and launch a share buyback.

Dallas-based Southwest said its board boosted the quarterly dividend to 4 cents a share from 1 cent a share, to begin with the payment on June 26, to shareholders of record on June 5.

The company said its share buyback authorization was increased to $1.5 billion from $1 billion.

Southwest also said it plans to buy 10 pre-owned 737-700s airplanes to be delivered in 2014 and 2015, and it made changes to aircraft orders that included exchanging plane models and deferring deliveries.

The carrier said it would be the first customer for the 7 series of Boeing's upcoming 737 MAX plane in 2019, converting 30 orders it had for the 737 Next Generation model to the new jet. The 110-foot-long 737 MAX 7 series is the smallest model of Boeing's revamped fuel-saving version of its popular 737 narrowbody.

The airline also said it converted firm orders it had for the Boeing 737-700 model to the bigger 737-800. Southwest also said it planned to retire more than 100 older planes over the next few years, and would continue to watch the pre-owned market for attractive purchase opportunities.

Kelly said the aircraft restructuring would save Southwest more than $500 million in capital spending on firm plane orders through 2018.

Shares of Southwest were up 2.3 percent to $14.30 on Wednesday as other airline stocks rose.