Delta may try to buy troubled AMR

13 Jan

Shares of Delta Air Lines, the world’s second-biggest airline, rose Thursday after a report that it may try to buy American Airlines parent AMR.

The Wall Street Journal said Delta, US Airways Group and buyout firm TPG Capital were separately looking at AMR, which is in the early stages of reorganizing through the bankruptcy process.

Delta, TPG, US Airways and AMR declined to comment.

Three big mergers since 2008 have helped the airline industry by reducing competition and making it easier to raise prices. In one of those deals, Delta, the largest airline at Detroit Metro, bought Northwest.

American missed out on the merger mania and fell from first to third among the world’s biggest airlines by passenger traffic. US Airways, which tried to buy Delta out of bankruptcy in 2006, has been widely viewed as a possible bidder for AMR.

Delta shares rose 26 cents, or 3%, to close at $8.87 after hitting $8.98 earlier in the day. The stock has traded between $6.41 and $12.81 in the past 52 weeks. US Airways shares gained 14 cents, or 2.4%, to $6.05.

Standard & Poor’s airline analyst Jim Corridore doubts that regulators would let Delta buy American. He said the combined airline would be too big even if it sold some assets. Delta was briefly the world’s biggest airline before United combined with Continental in 2010.

Corridore added that absorbing AMR “would be a big management distraction” for Delta. Hunter Keay, an analyst for Wolfe Trahan, said regulators might accept a Delta-American deal if Delta agreed to keep American’s pension plans.

The director of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp., which insures the pensions of one in seven people in the U.S., urged American on Thursday to keep its retirement plans and not drop them on the government agency. The PBGC is running a record $26-billion deficit after more companies dumped their pensions during the recession, and the agency could seek a taxpayer bailout.

Taking on American’s pension obligations would be a huge burden, but Delta might find it worthwhile to block an American-US Airways merger that would reduce Delta to third among U.S. airlines, Keay said.

American is saddled with large debts and troubled labor relations.

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http://www.freep.com/article/20120113/BUSINESS07/201130330/Delta-may-try-to-b…

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