(Reuters) - Southwest Airlines Co on Thursday reported profit that beat analysts' expectations and projected significant savings from the cascading cost of fuel.
The largest U.S. airline by domestic traffic said its profit was $190 million last quarter, which fell short of its quarterly income of $212 million in the same period in 2013.
Yet the airline earned 59 cents per diluted share, excluding $214 million in special items, which exceeded analysts' average estimate of $0.55 cents per diluted share also excluding these charges, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
"We have been very pleased with the overall performance of our markets under development, most notably Dallas Love Field, New York LaGuardia, and Reagan National," Chief Executive Officer Gary Kelly said in the earnings release.
The low-cost carrier completed a rapid round of expansion in 2014, introducing its first international flights last year as well as new routes from Dallas Love Field, an airport from which its flying was limited by statute until October 2014. While Southwest expects fewer milestones this year, it anticipates enormous savings from the oil glut, which has pushed global barrel prices down by more than 57 percent since June.
Southwest projected its fuel costs for the first quarter to be about $1.90 per gallon, which it says would amount to half a billion dollars in savings year-over-year. The airline paid on average $2.62 per gallon for fuel last quarter.
It also said it expects unit costs to decrease by one to two percent in the first quarter, excluding fuel, profit-sharing and special items.
"Their costs overall are coming in a lot better," CRT Capital Group analyst Michael Derchin said, explaining that the phasing out of AirTran flights in December made Southwest more efficient. The two companies merged in 2011.
Southwest said it expects its passenger revenues in the first quarter to grow in line with its expected six percent increase in capacity year-over-year.
Company shares rose about 4.92 percent to trade at $43.89.
Reporting By Jeffrey Dastin in New York; Editing by Andrea Ricci