By Tomi Kilgore
Airline stocks traded broadly lower Wednesday, with a few falling to fresh multi-year lows, amid growing concerns that the industry’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic will be relatively weak and take time even as states phase in reopening measures.
The U.S. Global Jets exchange-traded fund /zigman2/quotes/207744796/composite JETS +3.65% sank 3.1%, with 27 of 33 equity components trading lower. The ETF has tumbled 18.6% amid a 5-day losing streak. Over the same 5-day stretch, the S&P 500 index /zigman2/quotes/210599714/realtime SPX +1.05% has declined 3.1%.
Among the airline sector tracker’s most active components, shares of American Airlines Group Inc. /zigman2/quotes/209207041/composite AAL +6.80% dropped 2.7%, Delta Air Lines Inc. /zigman2/quotes/200327741/composite DAL +5.61% slid 3.3%, United Airlines Holdings Inc. /zigman2/quotes/205037281/composite UAL +8.29% dropped 5.0% and Southwest Airlines Co. /zigman2/quotes/201071949/composite LUV +5.23% shed 5.6%.
American Airlines’ stock closed at the lowest price since it started trading in its current form in December 2013, while Delta shares were closed at the lowest price since September 2013 and Southwest’s stock fell to a six-year low.
“Most airline managements are realizing that domestic traffic will be slow to recover, in part because the country is opening at different times,” Cowen analyst Helane Becker wrote in a note to clients. “Until various quarantines are lifted and most people get back to work we do not see any recovery for air traffic.”
The lifting of the COVID-19-related lockdowns can also vary even within each state, as California’s Gov. Gavin Newsome said retailers will be able to offer curbside pickup by Friday and manufacturers may also be able to reopen, but he said the San Francisco Bay Area can continue to have stricter rules.
/zigman2/quotes/200327741/composite DAL 27.09, +1.44, +5.61%
One of the biggest losers was Hawaiian Airlines parent Hawaiian Holdings Inc.’s stock /zigman2/quotes/203188135/composite HA +6.08% , which tumbled 6.9%. The air carrier reported late Tuesday a narrower-than-expected first-quarter loss but revenue that fell slightly more than expected and load factor that dropped well below forecasts amid a “significant drop in travel demand as the COVID-19 pandemic led to government travel restrictions, stay-at-home orders and consumer fear of travel.
Although the air carrier said it was unable to provide detailed financial guidance for the second quarter, given uncertainties over the timing of the relaxation of travel and quarantine restrictions, it expects capacity in April to be 94% below year-earlier levels and May capacity to be down 91%. And given that much of its flight costs are fixed, Hawaiian said it doesn’t expect expenses to decline at the same pace as capacity.
“What is clear to us is that demand is not going to quickly snap back to the levels seen before the pandemic,” said Chief Executive Peter Ingram on the post-earnings conference call with analysts, according to a FactSet transcript.
To help confirm Hawaiian’s outlook, Cowen’s Becker noted that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screened a total of just under 164,000 people on May 4, which is roughly 93% less than last year’s average daily screenings of about 2.5 million.
“The actual number of people traveling is still about 95% below last year’s levels, and is expected to stay relatively low until people are comfortable wearing a mask on a plane,” Becker wrote in a note to clients.
Elsewhere, shares of JetBlue Airways Corp. /zigman2/quotes/207639051/composite JBLU +6.21% slid 3.3%, Spirit Airlines Inc. /zigman2/quotes/205782179/composite SAVE +10.18% declined 6.2% and Mesa Air Group Inc. /zigman2/quotes/201991362/composite MESA +4.56% gave up 8.3%.
Also adding to the negative outlook for air travel recovery, shares of Spirit AeroSystems Holdings Inc. /zigman2/quotes/205043289/composite SPR +5.75% rose as much as 3.6% intraday, only to close down 5.2% at a 7-year low, after the aircraft components maker swung to a narrower-than-expected loss, but said it expected free cash flow for the year to be negative due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Late Tuesday, the company disclosed an agreement with Boeing Co. /zigman2/quotes/208579720/composite BA +2.98% in which Spirit will now deliver 125 737 MAX shipsets to Boeing this year, down from the previously-announced 216 shipsets.