NEW YORK – Delta Air Lines executives said they are optimistic about inclusion in the Standard
“In terms of profitability, market cap and whatnot, we think we’ve met every criteria” for the S&P, President Ed Bastian said in an interview this week. “At some point in time hopefully that will be here. You don’t get to lobby.”
Investment bankers have told Delta the company is “on some short list” of possible index additions, Bastian said. Atlanta-based Delta is poised for its most profitable year ever, Chief Executive Richard Anderson said.
Returning to the S&P 500, whose sole carrier is Southwest Airlines, probably would draw new investors and mark a milestone in Delta’s recovery since its removal in 2005 about a month before filing for bankruptcy. Delta’s market value was $15.6 billion Wednesday, topping the $15.2 billion median of companies in the index, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
S&P’s requirements include a market value of more than $4 billion, four consecutive quarters of profits and at least six months of trading after an initial public offering, according to the website of S&P Dow Jones Indices, a joint venture of McGraw-Hill Financial Inc. and CME Group Inc. Dave Guarino, a spokesman for S&P Dow Jones Indices, declined to comment on future index changes.
After a decadelong break, Delta said this month that it will restart a dividend, part of an effort to return $1 billion to investors that includes repurchasing shares.
Delta, which left Chapter 11 protection in 2007 and then bought Eagan-based Northwest Airlines in 2008, is also trying to get closer to investment grade as it pays down debt and catches up on pension obligations.
“I would say clearly it’s a five-year goal to be investment grade-like in terms of having credit metrics, ratios,” Bastian said.
S&P rates Delta as B+, or four steps below investment grade, after a May 10 boost from B marked the first upgrade since its April 2007 bankruptcy exit. Moody’s Investors Service’s rating is unchanged since 2007 at B2, or five steps below investment quality, data compiled by Bloomberg show.
Delta set a new target this month for lowering its adjusted net debt to $7 billion from a previous goal of $10 billion, which it projects meeting in 2013. Four years ago the world’s second-largest carrier had $17 billion in debt.
Delta shares climbed 1.7 percent to close Thursday at $18.49. The shares have jumped 56 percent this year, beating a 16 percent advance for the S&P 500.