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American Airlines-U.S. Airways Merger, Despite Turbulence, Will Get Done

In investing news, Jim Cramer recommended that investors buy into US Airways before the merger -- it is his first airline pick since 1985.

Cramer had this to say of the deal: After years of cut-throat competition that made the airlines simply un-investable, a string of mergers has taken away much of that competition, which may be bad news for travelers but is great news for stockholders.

There's a new world order, said Cramer, with the top four airlines now set to control 80% of all U.S. flights. That's why US Airways, which is set to merge with American Airlines when that company emerges from bankruptcy later this year, is worth getting in now, ahead of the deal. Once closed, the new American will be the largest airline in the world, said Cramer, and it will be No. 1 on the East Coast, No. 1 in middle America and No. 3 on the West Coast. With an estimated $1 billion in cost savings expected from the deal, Cramer said there's a lot to like about this combined behemoth. The day Cramer made his recommendation (March 5, 2013), the stock closed just over $14, and it has been creeping up since.

On Feb. 22, AMR and US Airways "filed a motion outlining some salary and benefit increases for AMR's nonunion customer-service, reservations and support employees, as well as for front-line management and senior executives," notes the Journal. "For the executives, the arrangements include incentive plans, awards related to the merger integration, severance benefits and a retention program." As part of this motion, AMR CEO Tom Horton was to receive a $19.9 million severance package comprising half cash and half stock in the new American Airlines Group in exchange for stepping down from his role as CEO in the third quarter, when the merger is expected to close, and taking on the role of nonexecutive chairman of the combined company until spring of 2014.

The papers filed by the U.S. Trustee on Friday "questioned whether the nearly $20 million payment to Mr. Horton is permissible under bankruptcy law, and pointed out that it is more than 10 times the amount of the mean severance pay to be given to nonmanagement employees."

I'm sure this will all blow over and arrangements will be made -- they almost always are. In the meantime, I recommend taking advantage of the delay in completing the merger that the Justice Department's objections to the proposed compensation plans in the US Airways/American Airlines merger agreement allows. Buy US Airways as soon as the momentum is down.

-- Written by Renee Butler in New York.

At the time of publication, the author had no position in any of the stocks mentioned.

This article was written by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.
Renee Butler is a freelance financial journalist based in Seattle. She has written hundreds of articles and blog posts on hedge funds, the financial markets, investing trends and company developments. Her articles have appeared on MSNBC, MarketWatch, the Motley Fool, The Street and Seeking Alpha, among others. Butler is a member of the National Press Club and the Society of Professional Journalists, and holds advanced degrees in business, financial management, psychology and sociology.
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