JetBlue Analysts Say ‘Bring Us the Head of Dave Barger’

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Wall Street has a mean streak, one that is now on display as increasing numbers of airline analysts call for the head of JetBlue ( JBLU) CEO Dave Barger.

In fact, JetBlue shares have traded higher in recent months based on the premise that Barger will soon depart, enabling the carrier to adopt more profit-oriented, consumer-unfriendly measures such as offering less legroom and charging for a first bag.


Shortly after the opening bell on Wednesday, JetBlue shares traded up 17 cents at $12.50. Shares are up 44% year-to-date.
Barger is seen as a symbol of an airline that has tried to be different, offering premium service at coach prices, and that consequently has come up short in the profit department. He has been with JetBlue since 1998, two years before the first flight, and became CEO in 2007.

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On JetBlue's second-quarter earnings call last month, amid growing speculation about his future, Barger declared: "It's no secret that I have a contract through the February 2015 time frame." On Wednesday morning, a JetBlue spokesman said the carrier had no additional comment.

The widespread assumption is that JetBlue President Robin Hayes will replace Barger in February, but Wall Street's preference appears to be for Barger to depart more quickly.

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In the past two weeks, at least four analysts have issued reports encouraging a change in JetBlue's approach, accompanied by Barger's departure.

Cowen and Co. analyst Helane Becker on Wednesday upgraded JetBlue to outperform from market perform and raised her target price to $15 from $10. "Our upgrade hinges on JetBlue re-working its model to increase profitability," Becker wrote. "This may include a management change. ... We believe JetBlue could make a management change at the top in order to foster a change in strategy throughout the company.

"Given the company's long history of underperformance in margins and in ROIC, we believe a management change is almost inevitable," she said.

 A first bag fee would add 26 cents to annual earnings per share, Becker concluded. Charging for Wi-Fi, now free, would add 9 cents. And adding 12 seats to each A320 -- cutting back on legroom in coach -- would add 18 cents. That "might hurt JetBlue in the media (but) the revenue benefit to the company would probably trump any customer push back," she wrote.

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