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AMR board to study merger option

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 8, 2013 at 5:08 pm •  Published: January 8, 2013

DALLAS (AP) — Directors of American Airlines' parent company likely won't make a decision when they meet Wednesday to consider a possible merger with US Airways, even as momentum for a deal is building.

Investors have been bidding up US Airways' stock price, and leaders of the two pilot unions agree on how to combine contracts, two developments that analysts say strengthen the case for a tie-up.

Still there could be a way to go. American parent AMR Corp., which filed for bankruptcy protection in November 2011, and US Airways Group Inc. have been talking about a potential merger since late summer but have not agreed on price, each side's ownership share, and who would run the company, according to people familiar with the situation. They spoke on condition of anonymity because the talks are confidential.

AMR CEO Thomas Horton raised expectations of a speedy outcome when he told employees last week that the company would decide "within a matter of weeks" whether it would be better to merge with smaller US Airways or remain independent.

That fueled speculation that AMR's board would make a decision this week. Bruce Hicks, an AMR spokesman, tamped down the rumors Monday, saying, "I am not expecting any news regarding the review of strategic alternatives this week."

There is no guarantee that American and US Airways will ever reach a friendly deal to create a single airline roughly the same size as United Airlines, currently the biggest, and larger than No. 2 Delta.

Robert W. Mann, an aviation consultant who once worked at American, believes that AMR will try to "run the clock" — avoid announcing a merger decision for as long as possible because rejecting US Airways' overtures could trigger an immediate hostile takeover bid. If the economy and the airline industry grow stronger, a delay gives AMR more time to post better financial results and boost Horton's argument that he's already fixing the company, Mann says.

AMR could use more time to figure out what to do with its American Eagle regional-airline subsidiary, which it has tried unsuccessfully to sell. It could even consider alternatives to a merger such as deeper partnerships with airlines other than US Airways.

"There won't be a rush to judgment because Horton doesn't want one," Mann says. "I think it'll be midyear before anything happens."

Horton's airline could be out of bankruptcy protection by then. A federal bankruptcy judge in New York has given AMR exclusive rights to present a reorganization plan until March 11. American won new, cost-saving labor contracts with all three of its unions.

In a letter disclosed Tuesday, AMR's chief bankruptcy lawyer even raised the chance that shareholders might get something back because of AMR's "remarkable progress" in stabilizing the business. In most Chapter 11 cases, shareholders' value is wiped out and the company issues new stock.

An AMR spokesman cautioned that buying AMR stock is speculative and that the shares could still turn out to be worthless. The shares, which were taken off the New York Stock Exchange but can still be traded over the counter, have gone from 36 cents to 90 cents since mid-November.

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