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JetBlue and Spirit Airlines end merger agreement after regulatory pushback

Spirit’s stock heads to record low JetBlue Airways Corp. and Spirit Airlines Inc. said Monday they have reached an agreement to terminate their July 2022 merger deal, sending Spirit’s stock down 14%.

“Although both companies continue to believe in the procompetitive benefits of the combination, JetBlue JBLU, +2.32% and Spirit SAVE, -11.61% mutually agreed that terminating is the best path forward for both companies as required closing conditions, including receiving necessary legal and regulatory approvals, were unlikely to be met by the merger agreement’s outside date of July 24, 2024,” JetBlue said in a statement.

The decision is a negative for Spirit and “marginally positive” for JetBlue, Citi analyst Stephen Trent said in a note Monday.

“With a merger now off the table, Spirit Airlines seems more likely to focus on liquidity issues, while the market watches for any signs regarding JetBlue’s plans to restore profitability and free cash flow,” he said.

Spirit in January sought to reassure investors with an upbeat revenue outlook and liquidity amid concerns that a failed merger with JetBlue could result in a bankruptcy.

Trent said that it would be “unlikely that another airline would entertain acquiring Spirit prior to the latter carrier at least having some sort of debt-restructuring plan in place.”

The deal was put in peril in January when a court sided with the Justice Department in saying that a merger between low-cost JetBlue and ultra-low-cost Spirit would hurt competition. The companies had appealed the ruling.

See also: JetBlue still evaluating options of Spirit merger, stock drops after earnings

JetBlue will now pay Spirit a $69 million breakup fee to release all claims between the two companies.

JetBlue will concentrate on its efforts to return to profitability, refocusing on core strengths while cutting costs. The airline is on track to deliver $175 million to $200 million in cost savings from its structural-cost program and $75 million in maintenance savings from its fleet modernization, as well as incremental savings from other fixed-cost base reductions. Those are expected to put it on track to approach break-even operating margins in 2024.