News & Analysis

Airline stocks are soaring, but the planes aren't

Andrew Saks, Tuesday, 13 April 2021

Looking at the charts this morning, those who seek to view the price movement of airline stock in the European markets with a creative bent may observe an upward-pointing line which resembles the angle of an aircraft after rotation as it takes off.

The situation on the other side of the Atlantic has been somewhat similar of late, with Mesa Air Group (MESA) whose market cap stands at $495.6 million having a 12 month trailing P/E ratio of 16.2, Chorus Aviation (CHR.TO) whose market cap is $793.2 million Canadian dollars having a 12 month traling P/E ratio of 20.4 and Exchange Income Corp (EIF.TO) a very high 12 month trailing P/E ratio of 52.5.

Which market sentiment is correct?

Both sides of the Atlantic were relatively aligned as market experts waited for the skies to be full of metal birds once again, however today a lead balloon has made its way into the vast blue expanse, and attached to it are the hopes and dreams of those wishing to cash in on a quick sale as customers and revenues return to the coffers of the airlines.

It is a case of which sentiment to pay attention to, that of the markets themselves, or that of the politicians who increasingly need to be born with the same physical abilities as Pinoccio.

Ryanair, the Irish budget airline whose stock is listed on the London Stock Exchange has literally taken off today, its stock racing up by 16.03 percent as the morning's trading gets underway, hot on the heels of the somewhat hollow victory for 'freedom' which the British public have been eagerly awaiting for what appears to be eternity.

Freedom these days, however, comes in the form of being 'allowed' to sit outside a pub. Perhaps the anticipation was greater than the reality, and media sources have been publishing imagery of crowded beaches in low rent concrete resorts in two-star package destinations - ie Ryanair's core market - saying that one day soon, those who worked hard for their own money will have government permission that they can choose to spend it how they choose, by going on holiday.

Having freedom of choice? There's a novelty.

Charismatic maverick Michael O'Leary, Ryanair's straight-talking and controversial CEO since 1993, may well have stuck his neck out several times during what has been the most difficult commercial period for the airline industry in history, and this, combined with the possibility of pink, sun-deprived post-lockdowners having an all-inclusive trip to a vast hotel which serves them as many limp sausages and baked beans as they can manage has created a welcome stock surge.

However, the seasoned professionals at the Tier 1 banks who are no stranger to getting their fingers burned when unusual market trends take place see things differently.

Brokers warn of turbulent summer

HSBC's stockbroking division has warned of a turbulent summer. Whether they intended that to be a play on words or not, who knows, but they were referring to the markets, not the mid-flight entries and exits into weather fronts.

The British government's proposed 'traffic light' system will make it difficult for the likes of Easyjet, Ryanair and Wizz Air to plan ahead and could leave them flying far fewer passengers as a result, according to analysts.

So, far from an end to government meddling, the lockdown still prevails. The British government has stated that passengers can tentatively think about overseas travel from May 17, however it is tentative and there are destination countries which are split into red, green and amber categories.

Whichever way this is viewed, it is clear that the government is not keen to give up control, and government control to this level always results in commercial destitution. Just ask Nicolas Maduro or Fidel Castro.

HSBC has stated that the lack of visibility on which countries will be subject to which colour-coded rules means that consumers will struggle to make travel plans and airlines will struggle to plan their capacity for the summer.

HSBC took aim at the bargain carriers, downgrading Easyjet and Ryanair's stock from 'buy' to 'hold'.

HSBC maintained Wizz Air at 'reduce', but also trimmed back share price targets for all three British budget carriers. Easyjet stock has gone down by 3.9% to 935.2p, Ryanair by 3.6%, or 0.59% to €15.69, and Wizz by 2.2 per cent, or 110p, to 4829p.

Thus, from the inside, a very cautious picture is painted by comparison to the overtly confident bullish one on the overall markets today.

A britalized public is a hard one to win over. Some will be over-optimistic, thinking that they should make the most of any form of freedom and go ahead and enjoy their baked beans in the sun courtesy of Mr O'Leary's National Express coach with wings, and others are so uncertain as to whether the government will stick to its word on reopening, as they have seen and heard it all before.

One thing's for sure though. Volatility in the FX market returned a while ago for the first time in almost 30 years. Now, volatility - and uncertainty - in the stock market is here to accompany it.

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