April 23, 2015 / 12:57 PM / 5 years ago

Southwest Airlines earnings nearly triple in first quarter

A Southwest Airlines jet comes in to land at Lindbergh Field in San Diego, California February 25, 2015. REUTERS/Mike Blake

(Reuters) - Southwest Airlines Co (LUV.N) on Thursday said its first-quarter profit nearly tripled but forecast a decline in unit revenue for April.

The airline reported net income of $453 million, or 66 cents a share, compared with the analysts’ average estimate of 65 cents, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Demand was strong, Chief Executive Officer Gary Kelly said in a news release, adding that traffic from Southwest’s new Dallas routes increased 145.5 percent from a year ago.

However, the low-cost carrier expects about a 2 percent decline in passenger unit revenue in April. Kelly cited an “exceptional and above-trend performance” in last year’s second quarter.

Southwest said it expected to pay $2.00 per gallon for jet fuel this quarter and forecast a 1 percent to 2 percent decline in unit costs, excluding fuel and special charges.

The Dallas company forecast a 5 percent rise in available seat miles, a measure of capacity, for 2016. Any further growth would be “modest,” Kelly said.

Southwest plans to complete its $1 billion stock buyback program in May with the purchase of the last $80 million in shares authorized. It said it paid $81 million in dividends and repurchased $300 million in stock last quarter.

Shares of Southwest were up 1.5 percent at $42.85 in trading before the market opened.

Reporting by Jeffrey Dastin in New York, Editing by Franklin Paul and Lisa Von Ahn

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