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TULSA, Okla. — Dollar Thrifty Automotive Group said Wednesday it achieved record fourth-quarter profit to close 2009, as the company celebrated its fourth straight quarter of making strides in its financial performance compared to the prior-year period. 

Specifically, Dollar Thrifty's net income during the fourth quarter was $11.5 million, up from a net loss of $72.2 million the previous year.

Included in the fourth-quarter 2009 results is a positive impact to income of $0.14 per diluted share, versus a negative impact of $1.54 per diluted share in the fourth quarter of 2008. These have to do with changes in the fair value of derivatives and the impairments of long-lived assets.

The company announced corporate adjusted EBITDA for the fourth quarter of $26.2 million, an improvement from the $43.4 million loss a year ago.

"We are all proud of the company's dramatic financial turnaround that is clearly demonstrated in our operating results for the quarter and full year," shared Scott Thompson, Dollar Thrifty's president and chief executive officer.

"The company realized a $69.6 million year-over-year improvement in corporate adjusted EBITDA for the fourth quarter," Thompson continued. "Additionally, we also are reporting our fourth consecutive quarter of year-over-year improvement in financial performance while operating in the challenging economy of 2009."

Quarterly revenue was $345.3 million, down roughly 2.76 percent from the fourth quarter of 2008.

Officials attributed this softening in part to the slowdown in rental days, as they fell 12.2 percent. This was somewhat offset by revenue per day, which climbed 11.6 percent.

Same-store rental revenues for locations open during both the fourth quarters of 2009 and 2008 showed a 1.7-percent gain. Average fleet during the period fell 10.5 percent year-over-year.

"Revenue for the quarter was in line with our expectations and our overall return on asset strategy. We continue to focus on the profitability of rental transactions and overall price discipline in the industry," Thompson pointed out.

"Consistent with our strategy, at times we will accept lower transaction days and utilization in order to maintain the proper balance between price and volume," he continued.

Continuing on, Dollar Thrifty's per vehicle depreciation cost during the final quarter of 2009 was $274 per month, an approximate decrease of 33 percent year-over-year.

Executives said stronger used-vehicle residual values (which began to rebound from the "historical" trough of the year-ago period), the extension of the company's fleet holding periods, better mix optimization, the fleet moving towards a higher percentage of risk vehicles and more effective remarketing all helped to push depreciation costs downward.

The company said its vehicle utilization was 78.8 percent, a decline of 150 basis points.

Officials explained that the boost in vehicles held for remarketing and Dollar Thrifty's focus on price discipline had a downward impact on utilization.

Continuing on, the company saw a decline in direct vehicle and operations expenses as well as SG&A expenses. This was largely due to transaction declines, cost-cutting efforts and cost-efficiency initiatives.

These operating expenses were 65.1 percent of revenue, down 620 basis points. In the year-ago period, they represented 71.3 percent of revenue.

Executives also noted that interest expense during the period was down from the prior year due largely to the $760 million debt reduction from 2008 levels. This was partly counteracted by smaller returns on invested cash.

Looking at full-year earnings, Dollar Thrifty reported $45 million in net income, up from a net loss of $346.7 million in 2008.

Included in the year-ago period's results was a $14.31 loss per diluted share related to the impairment of goodwill and long-lived assets and changes in fair value of derivatives. In 2009, there was a favorable impact on income of $0.65 per diluted share.

Yearly revenues were $1.55 billion, an 8.9-percent dip.

Corporate adjusted EBITDA was $99.4 million, compared to a $2.3 million loss in the previous year.

"As we began 2009, we faced a number of significant challenges that necessitated changing the company rapidly in order to enhance our competitiveness and to properly position the company for success," Thompson stated. "I would like to thank the entire Dollar Thrifty team for their openness to change and their significant contributions in a difficult year."

Dollar Thrifty Improves Liquidity

With regards to liquidity and capital resources, Dollar Thrifty said a successful $120 million equity offering helped the company to continue to bolster its liquidity and tangible net worth.

As of Dec. 31, Dollar Thrifty had $500 million in cash and cash equivalents. It also had an additional $623 million in restricted cash and investments primarily available to buy vehicles and/or pay off vehicle financing obligations.

Dollar Thrifty said as of the end of 2009, its tangible net worth was $368 million. 

Full-Year 2010 Guidance

Looking forward to 2010, the company expects full-year corporate adjusted EBITDA to be between $120 million and $140 million. Officials noted that vehicle rental revenues are likely to climb 2 to 4 percent thanks to transaction days and revenue per day showing low, single-digit improvements.

The company is anticipating 2010 vehicle depreciation costs will be around $325 per vehicle per month. However, there is likely to be some variance in costs from quarter to quarter due to the disposition of vehicles, officials shared.

"In 2009, our primary objectives were the preservation of liquidity and maximization of cash flow. With those objectives achieved, the Company is well positioned to take advantage of a mildly improving economy," Thompson added.

"We will seek profitable transaction growth in 2010 with the objective of maximizing return on assets for our shareholders," he concluded.