Shares of airline operators were broadly and in some cases sharply lower Monday, as the number of weekly travels fell for the first time since the post-Labor Day bump, amid growing concerns over the potential fallout from the surge in new COVID-19 cases .
The number of people going through Transportation Security Administration checkpoints fell to a daily average of 844,217 for the week ended Sunday, from a daily average of 871,513 the week before, according to a MarketWatch analysis of TSA throughput data . That’s the first decline since the week ended Sept. 20. The daily average had declined back then after it got a boost the week before from increased travel on Labor Day .
The dip in travelers comes as the daily tally of new COVID-19 cases in the U.S. rose to records over the weekend, and a number of European countries moved to tighten restrictions as the continent was hit with a spike in cases.
The U.S. Global Jets exchange-traded fund /zigman2/quotes/207744796/composite JETS -0.59% dropped 5.3% in afternoon trading, while the Dow Jones Transportation Average /zigman2/quotes/210598063/realtime DJT -1.33% slumped 2.6% with all six airlines components losing ground.
The airline sectors losses underperformed the broader stock market by a wide margin, as the Dow Jones Industrial Average /zigman2/quotes/210598065/realtime DJIA -1.58% dropped 735 points, or 26% and the S&P 500 index /zigman2/quotes/210599714/realtime SPX -1.31% lost 2.1%.
Among the more-active airline stocks, American Airlines Group Inc. /zigman2/quotes/209207041/composite AAL +0.27% sank 6.0%, United Airlines Holdings Inc. shed 7.6% /zigman2/quotes/205037281/composite UAL +1.25% , Delta Air Lines Inc. dropped 6.3% /zigman2/quotes/200327741/composite DAL +0.88% , JetBlue Airways Corp. /zigman2/quotes/207639051/composite JBLU -0.12% slid 7.0% and Southwest Airlines Co. /zigman2/quotes/201071949/composite LUV -0.68% gave up 4.7%.
Elsewhere, shares of Alaska Air Group Inc. /zigman2/quotes/200972303/composite ALK +1.07% dropped 7.8% to pace the Dow transports’ airline decliners, Spirit Airlines Inc. /zigman2/quotes/205782179/composite SAVE -0.66% fell 8.3%, Hawaiian Airlines parent Hawaiian Holdings Inc. /zigman2/quotes/203188135/composite HA -0.96% declined 5.4% and Mesa Air Group Inc. /zigman2/quotes/201991362/composite MESA -1.82% was down 5.7%.
Also weighing on airline stocks is uncertainties over a government stimulus, which has been a key driver of the airline sector in recent months.
“U.S. stimulus is not a slam dunk,” wrote Raymond James airline analyst Savanthi Syth in a note to clients. “While negotiators are striking a more optimistic tone, our Washington policy analysts continue to see the post-election period as the earliest chance of finalizing a deal, with risks remaining in this scenario tied to the election outcome.”
See related : ‘It’s about midnight’ for stimulus deal, key GOP senator says .
On the bright side, the daily average of travelers for the weeks ended Sundays reached a post-COVID high of 871,513 for the week ended Oct. 18, which is nearly nine times the post-COVID low of 97,799 for the week ended April 19.
The Jets ETF has now shed 43.9% year to date, but has run up 48% since closing at a post-COVID-19 low of $12.00 on May 15.