FORT WORTH, Texas – AMR Corp. will divest its American Eagle regional airline unit to better focus on running American Airlines, the world’s largest carrier, and to calm restless shareholders.
The decision to offload American Eagle sometime in 2008, announced Wednesday afternoon, follows a strategic review of assets that AMR undertook partly in response to pressure from large shareholders seeking a better and quicker return. Divestiture could come through an outright sale or spinoff of a separate stock.
In September, FL Group, an Icelandic hedge fund that owned 9 percent of AMR’s stock, began publicly pushing it to divest its AAdvantage frequent flier program, American Eagle or other noncore assets including its American Beacon Advisors money management unit. AMR management reacted coolly, noting that such asset sales could have a long-term negative effect on the company’s primary business, American.
Other hedge funds and investors also began pressing AMR for such divestitures. Over the last year the possibility of big airlines unloading noncore assets has become a major theme among nontraditional airline investors like hedge funds.
Like most carriers’ shares, AMR stock this year has performed poorly. Even after a 6.9 percent gain Wednesday to a closing price of $21.98, AMR shares are still trading near their 52-week low of $19 set only last week. They’re nearly 50 percent off their January peak.
Tom Horton, AMR’s CFO, said in an interview that the company has never been opposed to divesting noncore units. “It’s something we’ve been working on for a while now and we now think it makes sense,” he said of the pending divestiture.
Horton would not discuss AMR’s thinking on the possible offloading of its frequent flier program or its money management unit. “We’re still conducting our review and thinking,” he said.
Horton said it’s premature to say what AMR would do with revenue from an American Eagle sale, but debt reduction has been priority.
American Eagle Airlines: At a glance
• Headquarters: Fort Worth, Texas
• Employees: More than 13,000
• First flight: Nov. 1, 1984
• Daily flights: More than 1,800
• Fleet: 305 aircraft
• Destinations served: 159
• Longest route: Los Angeles to Bentonville, Ark., 1,371 miles