Delta rebuts Buffett with dividend restoration

The carrier will also repurchase shares as part of a plan to return $1 billion to shareholders.

By TheStreet Staff May 8, 2013 12:36PM

thestreet logoPortrait of Pilots Sitting in the Cockpit, Adjusting the Controls copyright Digital Vision., Digital Vision, Getty ImagesBy Ted Reed


Delta (DAL), which has led airline industry efforts to gain investor trust, said Wednesday it will restore its dividend and repurchase shares.


At an investor presentation, the carrier announced a plan to return $1 billion to shareholders over the next three years. The plan includes restoration of the quarterly dividend that ended in 2003 as bankruptcy loomed. The dividend of 6 cents a share will be paid Sept. 10, to shareholders of record on Aug. 9. Among major airlines, only Southwest (LUV) currently pays a dividend.


Additionally, Delta's board authorized a $500 million share repurchase program, to be completed no later than June 30, 2016.


"Delta's financial performance and balance sheet have strengthened considerably over the past five years and the board believes the company is now in a position to begin returning cash to our shareholders," said Chairman Daniel Carp in a prepared statement.


The announcement comes just days after noted investor Warren Buffett decried (see TheStreet) airline investing at the Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.A) annual meeting.


"Investors have poured their money into airlines and airline manufacturers for 100 years with terrible results," Buffett said then. "It's been a death trap for investors," he said of the airline industry, after he was asked whether airline consolidation has altered his long-standing view that resulted from a 1989 investment in US Airways (LCC) that didn't lose money, but didn't make as much money as Buffett expected it to make.


Delta said it will also continue its debt reduction efforts and disciplined capital investment and will aggressively manage its pension liability.


The carrier's adjusted net debt totaled about $12 billion at the end of 2012, down from $17 billion three years earlier. The carrier expects the number to fall to $10 billion at the end of the current year and subsequently to $7 billion.


In its presentation, Delta outlined a five-year financial plan that envisions expanded free cash flow generation through a combination of expected earnings improvements and disciplined capital investment. Over the next five years, the company plans $2 billion to $2.5 billion, or about 50% of operating cash flow, in capital expenditures for products including aircraft.


Additionally, over the next five years, Delta plans $1 billion of incremental contributions to its defined benefit pension plan, in addition to the $650 million to $700 million annual required contribution.



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