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Southwest Airlines Wings North

When Southwest Airlines () (LUV) skidded to a 52-week low of 13.14 on Sept. 1, Kevin Lane of Redwood/Technimentals Research pulled the "buy" trigger. Airlines have been out of favor on the Street, but Lane was sure his reading was correct: Southwest would pull up on technical and fundamental reasons. On Oct. 21, Southwest posted better-than-expected third-quarter earnings despite rising fuel prices, boosting the stock to 15.80. Andrew Light of Citigroup Global Markets, which owns shares and has done banking for Southwest, raised his earnings forecast for 2005 from 59 cents to 60 cents a share and for 2006 from 49 cents to 58 cents, rating the airline a buy. Joseph Phillips of Redwood says it is the most profitable of the airlines. Its balance sheet is spotless, with a low debt-to-capital ratio and a high operating margin of 14%. Substantial portions of its fuel costs are hedged as far out as 2009, he notes. As a low-cost carrier, Southwest's business model works, says Phillips. In 6 to 12 months, he sees the stock flying to 22.

Note: Unless otherwise noted, neither the sources cited in Inside Wall Street nor their firms hold positions in the stocks under discussion. Similarly, they have no investment banking or other financial relationships with them.

By Gene G. Marcial

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