Oh, we love mergers.
They give us a chance to pull out the Wing Tips Merger and Acquisition scorecard, dig around in the little bag for all those little miniature airplanes with all the different logos, and play ... What If?
On our board we have one side for the sharks -- those airlines that may swallow their brethren -- while on the other side we have the minnows, those airlines that are possible main courses.
Here is how our 10 little airplanes line up on the board.
Over there on the far corner of the middle of the board is
. Southwest is no minnow. Nor is it a shark. The product is too unique, the culture too different. So we just put that little orange and mustard colored plane over to the side.
. This airplane falls squarely in the minnow category. How does a possible
deal affect TWA?
Not clear. We know that TWA and
continue to play footsie, but then again, America West has let any and all suitors come courting of late -- so TWA could be the odd airline out if, say,
decides it has to solidify its West Coast presence, to make up for losing out in the United/US Airways deal.
Speaking of America West, its plane is next out of the bag.
Hmmmm. America West is definitely one hot minnow -- a smaller national player that could nicely complement more than one shark's route system. As a result, this one is up for grabs. We'd say it could be gobbled up by American,
Which brings us to the little silver bird with the red and blue markings. American Airlines. Definitely not a minnow -- but perhaps a vulnerable shark.
If we take a global perspective to this UAL/US Airways merger -- and in our humble estimation that is what needs to be done -- there's no question that American's the big loser here.
First, American will lose its marketing agreement with US Airways, which at least allowed American passengers to pick up American frequent flyer miles when flying US Airways' routes on the East Coast. This deal will effectively block American from the East Coast to a great extent.
More important, this deal has removed the US Airways' gray plane from the Wing Tips M&A board. It makes the alliance with US Airways a dead issue.
Unless, of course, American decides to make a counteroffer. Only one problem with this -- American doesn't have enough cash to make a cash counteroffer. If the airline, say, made a $72 a share counteroffer, it would have to come up with a creative financing plan -- and the resulting debt load would make analysts choke.
But if American doesn't block the deal, US Airways will become a member of the
This is a major blow to American, whose dream of a world-beating alliance with
was already on shaky ground before the United/US Airways deal was announced. Now, with United becoming the dominant East-West, North-South domestic carrier, American's appeal to BA is somewhat diminished.
Since we're talking globally, let's shift a moment and look at the situation in Europe and how that plays from American's perspective.
We believe that American's
partner, British Airways, is in merger discussions with
. But, as you may recall, KLM is in a code-sharing agreement with Northwest. So the plot thickens. This also gives more credence to a possible Northwest/American domestic merger deal. These two airlines' route systems match up pretty well.
American does have a very bright spot on the European landscape -- the recently approved code-sharing and marketing alliance with SAirGroup -- which includes
. The ex-Delta alliance partners are a nice catch. And at the rate SAirGroup is gobbling up airlines, who knows where all this will lead for American.
Upshot? Either American makes a counteroffer for US Airways, it does a merger with Northwest, or it goes after a regional in the west -- America West or
Next, let's fish around and get Delta's little airplane out here. Oops. Wrong livery. OK, now we have one with the new free-flowing blue tail.
I said it two years ago and I'll say it again. The best match-up for Delta is Continental. Sometimes sharks just need to stick together. Unfortunately, Delta CEO Leo Mullin choked when Continental broached the idea more than two years ago.
The breakdown of that deal is what caused Greg Brenneman, president of Continental, to issue the now famous indictment of Delta execs. The deal collapsed, Brenneman said, because of the "box of rocks" thinking by Delta management.
Hey, I can remember my discussions with United CEO Jim Goodwin last August about Stephen Wolf, too. Let's just say the Wolfman was not No. 1 on the hit parade in his old stomping grounds at that time -- for a number of reasons.
Never say never.
The dream match-up for me? Delta/Continental with Continental CEO Gordon Bethune and Greg Brenneman at the helm. Goodness. That one gives me goose bumps.
Actually, there really is no other good match for Delta. Oh, it could go after Alaska Airlines but then again, as we pull out this poor little minnow with the Eskimo on its tail, let's face it, Alaska is having some serious problems of late. I mean serious. And making a deal for America West or Alaska wouldn't give Delta the clout of a United/US Airways match-up. Northwest/Delta doesn't cut it, route wise. In addition, the Delta/Air France alliance pales in comparison to both oneworld and the Star Alliance.
Delta is definitely on the shark side of the playing board -- but we don't see anything besides Continental that fits the menu requirements. Therefore, Delta is a bit vulnerable as well.
Which brings us finally to Northwest and Continental. Continental has made no secret of its desire for Northwest to sell its stake in the airline back to Continental.
I can understand why. The
has continued to drag its feet on the merger that was set up to not look like a real merger between the two, and the situation hampers Continental from striking its own deal -- with Delta for instance.
Now, got all that?
As you can see, the United/US Airways deal was just the beginning. We can't wait to see the next chapter unfold.
Holly Hegeman, based in Barrington, Rhode Island, pilots the Wing Tips column for TheStreet.com. At time of publication, Hegeman held no positions in any securities mentioned in this column, although holdings can change at any time. Under no circumstances does the information in this column represent a recommendation to buy or sell stocks. You can usually find Hegeman, publisher of PlaneBusiness Banter, buzzing around her airline industry Web site at
www.planebusiness.com. While she cannot provide investment advice or recommendations, she welcomes your feedback at