NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Most people think of American Airlines (AAL), Delta Air Lines (DAL), and Southwest Airlines (LUV) when discussing U.S. airlines, but the much smaller and thinly traded Alaska Air Group (ALK) is rarely brought up. Despite having gains of 30.33% year to date, Alaska Air is a laggard to its larger competitors, which have positive returns of 69.19%, 34.13%, and 50.72%, respectively.
Delta Air Lines and Southwest Airlines have both been advocates of stock buybacks and dividends recently, but neither has been more shareholder-friendly than Alaska Air. On May 12, Alaska Air's board approved a 25-cent quarterly dividend and a share repurchase program of up to $650 million. This is on top of $42 million left from a $250 million buyback program from September 2012.
Although $650 million doesn't sound large compared to Delta's $2 billion buyback program that will be completed by the end of 2016, Alaska Air has a market cap roughly five times smaller than Delta's ($6.6 billion vs. $32.7 billion). The combined buyback programs of Alaska Air represent a massive 10%-plus of its current market cap. Prior to this announcement, it had repurchased $519 million worth of stock since 2007.
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