Up, up, and away. Alaska Air Group (ALK 2.40%) has given a great deal of lift to its quarterly dividend. The company declared a fresh payout of nearly $0.28 per share, a robust 38% higher than its predecessor. That's actually par for the course for the high-flying carrier. Since initiating the quarterly distribution in mid-2013, it's lifted it by substantial amounts at the beginning of every year.
The new dividend will be paid on March 8 to stockholders of record as of Feb. 23. At the current share price, the payout yields 1.5%. Although this is higher than the yields of fellow carriers Southwest Airlines (LUV 1.26%) and Delta Air Lines (DAL 1.59%), it falls short of the current 2.3% average of the stocks on the S&P 500 index.
Does it matter?
There's little reason why Alaska Air Group shouldn't have raised its dividend. The company's Q4 was very encouraging, with both quarterly and adjusted annual net income notching new company record highs at $186 million and $842 million, respectively. The former, by the way, was a hefty 49% improvement over the same quarter the previous year, and on a per-share basis it comfortably beat the average analyst estimate.
The great advantage airlines have at the moment is, of course, the cratering price of oil. At the moment, jet fuel is the cheapest it's been in over half a decade. So the carriers are saving mightily on what typically is their second most expensive item (next to wages and benefits). Alaska Air Group's spending on fuel declined a whopping 33% in fiscal 2015; no wonder it was so profitable. A similar dynamic benefited Southwest Airlines, which also posted a record Q4 and fiscal 2015. Unlike Southwest Airlines and Alaska Air Group, those periods didn't enter the record book for Delta Air Lines. But the company did see big jumps in profitability, thanks in no small part to annual cost savings of 44% on fuel.
Although airline stocks have been caught in the general bearish grip of the market in recent weeks, on a fundamental basis they're collectively thriving. Alaska Air Group's dividend hike, plus the excellent results shown by it and incumbents like Southwest Airlines and Delta Air Lines, are good measures of the industry's crude health.