CBS Highlights Southwest's Smart Business Practices
CBS News finally found a reason to praise one company for oil speculation, despite past criticism of the practice.
As oil climbed toward its record high over $147 a barrel in July, â€śCBS Evening Newsâ€ť targeted oil speculators. A June 17 segment even suggested legitimate oil future trading was done on â€śdark markets.â€ť But on the August 18 â€śEvening News,â€ť CBS correspondent Nancy Cordes showed how one airline used oil hedging to the companyâ€™s and its customersâ€™ advantage.
â€śWith jet fuel prices sky high, all the airlines are losing money â€“ all of them but one. Southwest Airlines was the only major US carrier to turn a profit last quarter, and it did it without charging a dime for pillows, water or checked bags, all while poking fun at its rivals,â€ť Cordes said. â€śWhat's the secret? Well, two decades ago, Southwest made a bet on a strategy called hedging â€“ paying more up front to lock in the price it pays for oil. Today, while the going rate is $112 a barrel, Southwest pays only $51.â€ť
Southwest Airlines (NYSE:LUV) bought oil futures at $51 a barrel, betting the price would increase over time, and the profitable decision earned praise from CBS. But speculators who bet on the value of oil to increase â€“ contributing in some way to the increase in price â€“ earned scorn.
The segment showed how Southwest passed $2 billion savings to customers by not charging them for amenities (some airlines are now offering for a fee: pillows, blankets and snacks). But the oil hedges have also given the airline pricing power over other airlines and cause a marketplace phenomenon known as the â€śSouthwest Effect.â€ť
The â€śSouthwest Effectâ€ť is a dramatic decrease in airfares by all airlines at a particular market created by the need to compete with Southwest. Southwest is able to offer lower fares because of its unique â€ślow-cost carrierâ€ť business model. Other airports with significantly lower fares because of Southwestâ€™s presence include
Cordes also noted that the airline has kept its business plan simple by using only one model of aircraft and by flying out of airports with lower fees.
â€śAnd, crucially, Southwest steers clear of those big hubs with their high landing fees and congestion, bypassing, say, Chicago's O'Hare, where one out of three flights is delayed, in favor of nearby Midway, where only one in five arrive late. Instead of flying to
The media has attacked the airline industry for safety concerns, as a recent Business & Media Institute report showed. Safety concerns raised after the Federal Aviation Administration failed to maintain inspections included Southwest, but the company emerged from the controversy relatively unharmed and reported an 11-percent increase in revenue in the second quarter of 2008.