Airline Industry Needs M&A Chatter

DALLAS ( TheStreet) -- Something's missing from the airline industry: Merger speculation.

Perhaps the absence of chatter is understandable, given that all eyes and ears are on United ( UAUA) and Continental ( CAL) as they move towards an imminent completion of their merger, just five months after the deal was announced.
United and Continental

That leaves little to speculate on regarding United and Continental -- with the exception of how long Cleveland will remain a hub. A deal with Ohio's attorney general assures the airline's commitment but requires success in Cleveland for the commitment to be maintained. Huh?

By the way, United and Continental want this deal so badly that they let the fox into the henhouse at Newark when they agreed to lease slots to Southwest ( LUV). How long will it be before Southwest owns the place?

Read on for a few potential pairings worth thinking about.

American + US Airways

No doubt a potential merging of American ( AMR) and US Airways ( LCC) is a live one, awaiting the resolution of just a single problem: American has no interest. It has so little interest that it even violated its longstanding policy of not commenting on potential mergers to make its lack of interest clear.
American and US Airways

Okay, maybe this is just a ruse to get the price of the deal down.

It's true that down the road, US Airways could be involved in a merger. At least, this is what US Airways Doug Parker has said. Parker has been a key player in all of the recent industry mergers.

First, ATA, unable to make a deal with US Airways predecessor America West in 2004, sold Midway slots to Southwest. Then Delta shunned US Airways to merge with Northwest. Then United shunned US Airways to merge with Continental.

For anyone truly interested in predicting airline mergers, the trick will be to find out what carrier US Airways is eyeing as a partner and then figure out what other company that carrier might merge with.

JetBlue + Everyone

Airline watchers long for the days of merger speculation involving JetBlue ( JBLU) and Delta ( DAL), which flourished despite JetBlue management's insistence in 2007 that it had no desire to merge with anyone. Instead, JetBlue is today partners with everyone.

Everyone, that is, except for Delta.

Southwest + Sun Country

Stifel Nicolaus analyst Hunter Keay has found a potential merger to write about. In a recent report, Keay mused about a merger between Southwest and the privately-held, Minneapolis-based Sun Country.

This deal has every possible synergy:
  • Southwest began flying to Minneapolis in 2009 and has been growing there; an acquisition would enable more growth.
  • Southwest flies 737s, Sun Country flies 737s.
  • Southwest wants to grow internationally; Sun Country flies to Mexico, the Caribbean and London/Stansted.
  • Southwest has $3.7 billion sitting around, probably drawing 0% interest, just like our CDs.
  • Plus, Sun Country currently resides in bankruptcy court -- ground zero for airline merger speculation.

    Keay emphasized that he has no knowledge of any talks; he just thinks the idea is an interesting one.

    The airline industry, which loves merger speculation, owes him its thanks.

    -- Written by Ted Reed in Charlotte, N.C.

    >To contact the writer of this article, click here: Ted Reed

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