Does Southwest Airlines Company (LUV) Generate Enough Cash?

Southwest Airlines Company dropped -3.11% during today's afternoon session, underperforming the S&P 500 by -3.21%. The lackluster performance from the large-cap Airlines company may seem like an opportunity to buy shares at a discount, but it's a good idea to take a closer look at the company's financials first.

At first glance, Southwest Airlines Company is profitable because its operating margins have recently averaged 0.23%. This represents the percentage of profit after all operating costs have been accounted for, and if you're thinking that these profits neatly translate into cash, and therefore, equity growth, you'd be mistaken. This is because profits are not cash.

Southwest Airlines Company's Operating Margins

Date Reported Revenue (k) Operating Expenses (k) Operating Margin YoY Growth
2022-12-31 $23,322,000 $23,105,000 4.36% -61.04%
2021-12-31 $15,381,000 $14,312,000 11.19% 126.53%
2020-12-31 $9,048,000 $13,259,000 -42.18% -419.79%
2019-12-31 $22,426,000 $19,471,000 13.19% -9.66%
2018-12-31 $21,965,000 $18,759,000 14.6% n/a

When a company makes a sale, its accountants record it as revenue -- even if the company hasn't gotten paid yet. Corporate accountants use the accrual method (as opposed to the cash method) to paint a representative picture of how much money the company is collecting and spending on average in each reporting period. So these income and expense numbers for a given period never match the incoming and outgoing cash flows during the same period.

This means that a company can be profitable in a given year, yet post a negative cash flow from operations. Some profitable companies may struggle to reliably convert their profits into the cash needed to run the daily business, to service its debt, and to pay its equity investors. That's why its essential to review the company's cash flows in tandem with its profit margins. Below is an overview of Southwest Airlines Company's recent cash flows:

Date Reported Cash Flow from Operations (k) Capital Expenditures (k) Free Cash Flow (k) YoY Growth
2022-12-31 $3,790,000 $3,924,000 -$134,000 -107.37%
2021-12-31 $2,322,000 $505,000 $1,817,000 210.66%
2020-12-31 -$1,127,000 $515,000 -$1,642,000 -155.47%
2019-12-31 $3,987,000 $1,027,000 $2,960,000 -0.37%
2018-12-31 $4,893,000 $1,922,000 $2,971,000 n/a

Southwest Airlines Company's cash flows are on average positive, but their high coefficient of variability, which stands at 170%, may be cause for concern more cautious investors. We also note the average free cash flow growth rate of -10.51%.

The above analysis is intended for educational purposes only and was performed on the basis of publicly available data. It is not to be construed as a recommendation to buy or sell any security. Any buy, sell, or other recommendations mentioned in the article are direct quotations of consensus recommendations from the analysts covering the stock, and do not represent the opinions of Market Inference or its writers. Past performance, accounting data, and inferences about market position and corporate valuation are not reliable indicators of future price movements. Market Inference does not provide financial advice. Investors should conduct their own review and analysis of any company of interest before making an investment decision.