No Joy for JetBlue

What happens when a growth stock ceases to be a growth stock? This. Which is why, for JetBlue (Nasdaq: JBLU  ) investors, it may be time to buckle up: Your stock is no longer a growth stock.

Here's how new CEO Dave Barger put it when announcing second-quarter earnings this morning: "Slowing capacity growth will allow us to strengthen our balance sheet and facilitate earnings growth."

What he's referring to is a program whereby JetBlue will sell three A320 jets and defer deliveries of 16 Embraer (NYSE: ERJ  ) 190 jets. Fewer planes equals fewer seats. Fewer seats equals fewer seat miles. Fewer seat miles equals less capacity.

Call it a strategy of controlled growth. For now, it's working. Second-quarter revenue rose 19.3%. Net profit was up 50%. Margins, meanwhile, improved across the board. (Get all the numbers here.)

I'm most impressed by the margin gains. Why? Higher expenses torched the upper half of the income statement. Salaries, wages, and benefits were up 18%, thanks to a change in their profit-sharing program. Fuel expense was up 17.5% and landing fees rose by more than 26% because of an expanded route structure. Cost per available seat mile (CASM) increased as a result, but only by 3.9%.

Still, rising CASM isn't a good sign in the face of lower capacity. It'll put more pressure on the existing fleet to fly more hours, more profitably, in order to achieve sustained growth. Ask recently bankrupt Delta (NYSE: DAL  ) , Northwest (NYSE: NWA  ) , and US Airways (NYSE: LCC  ) how that strategy tends to work out.

No, wait. You already know the answer.

Nevertheless, I think Barger and his team have a shot at making a controlled growth strategy work. Why? The profit sharing program. In an industry where service stinks and employees no longer care, bringing together 9,000 people motivated by cold, hard cash could become a powerful competitive advantage.

Or, if nothing else, enough to keep JetBlue flying.

Taxi towards related Foolishness:

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Fool contributor Tim Beyers once took the Denver to New York redeye via JetBlue. He'd prefer to avoid that in the future. Tim didn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this article at the time of publication. Find Tim's portfolio here and his latest blog commentary here. The Motley Fool's disclosure policy always adds up.


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